MARTIN LUTHER BIOGRAPHY
Leader of the great religious revolt of the sixteenth century in Germany; born at Eisleben, 10 November, 1483; died at Eisleben, 18 February, 1546.
His father, Hans, was a miner, a rugged, stern, irascible character. In the opinion of many of his biographers, it was an expression of uncontrolled rage, an evident congenital inheritance transmitted to his oldest son, that compelled him to flee from Mohra, the family seat, to escape the penalty or odium of homicide. This, though first charged by Wicelius, a convert from Lutheranism, has found admission into Protestant history and tradition. His mother, Margaret Ziegler, is spoken of by Melancthon as conspicuous for “modesty, the fear of God, and prayerfulness” (“Corpus Reformatorum”, Halle, 1834). Extreme simplicity and inflexible severity characterized their home life, so that the joys of childhood were virtully unknown to him. His father once beat him so mercilessly that he ran away from home and was so “embittered against him that he had to win me to himself again.” His mother, “on account of an insignificant nut, beat me till the blood flowed, and it was this harshness and severity of the life I led with them that forced me subsequently to run away to a monastery and become a monk.” The same cruelty was the experience of his earliest school-days, when in one morning he was punished no less than fifteen times. The meager data of his life at this period make it a work of difficulty to reconstruct his childhood. His schooling at Mansfeld, whither his parents had returned, was uneventful. He attended a Latin school, in which the Ten Commandments, “Child’s Belief”, the Lord’s Prayer, the Latin grammar of Donatus were taught, and which he learned quickly. In his fourteenth year (1497) he entered a school at Magdeburg, where, in the words of his first biographer, like many children “of honourable and well-to-do parents, he sang and begged for bread — panem propter Deum” (Mathesius, op.cit.). In his fifteenth year we find him at Eisenach. At eighteen (1501) he entered the University of Erfurt, with a view to studying jurisprudence at the request of his father. In 1502 he received the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy, being the thirteenth among fifty-seven candidates. On Epiphany (6 January, 1505), he was advanced to the master’s degree, being second among seventeen applicants. His philosophical studies were no doubt made under Jodocus Trutvetter von Eisenach, then rector of the university, and Bartholomaus Arnoldi von Usingen. The former was pre-eminently the Doctor Erfordiensis, and stood without an admitted rival in Germany. Luther addresses him in a letter (1518) as not only “the first theologian and philosopher”, but also the first of contemporary dialecticians. Usingen was an Augustinian friar, and second only to Trutvetter in learning, but surpassing him in literary productivity. Although the tone of the university, especially that of the students, was pronouncedly, even enthusiastically, humanistic, and although Erfurt led the movement in Germany, and in its theological tendencies was supposedly “modern”, nevertheless “it nowise showed a depreciation of the currently prevailing [Scholastic] system” (ibid.). Luther himself, in spite of an acquaintaince with some of the moving spirits of humanism, seems not to have been appreciably affected by it, lived on its outer fringe, and never qualified to enter its “poetic” circle.
Luther’s sudden and unexpected entrance into the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt occurred 17 July, 1505. The motives that prompted the step are various, conflicting, and the subject of considerable debate. He himself alleges, as above stated, that the brutality of his home and school life drove him into the monastery. Hausrath, his latest biographer and one of the most scholarly Luther specialists, unreservedly inclines to this belief. The “house at Mansfeld rather repelled than attracted him” (Beard, “Martin Luther and the Germ. Ref.”, London, 1889, 146), and to “the question ‘Why did Luther go into the monastery?’, the reply that Luther himself gives is the most satisfactory” (Hausrath, “Luthers Leben” I, Berlin, 1904, 2, 22). He himself again, in a letter to his father, in explanation of his defection from the Old Church, writes, “When I was terror-stricken and overwhelmed by the fear of impending death, I made an involuntary and forced vow”. Various explanations are given of this episode. Melancthon ascribes his step to a deep melancholy, which attained a critical point “when at one time he lost one of his comrades by an accidental death” (Corp. Ref., VI, 156). Cochlaeus, Luther’s opponent, relates “that at one time he was so frightened in a field, at a thunderbolt as is commonly reported, or was in such anguish at the loss of a companion, who was killed in the storm, that in a short time to the amazement of many persons he sought admission to the Order of St. Augustine”. Mathesius, his first biographer, attributes it to the fatal “stabbing of a friend and a terrible storm with a thunderclap” (op.cit.) Seckendorf, who made careful research, following Bavarus (Beyer), a pupil of Luther, goes a step farther, calling this unknown friend Alexius, and ascribes his death to a thunderbolt (Seckendorf, “Ausfuhrliche Historie des Lutherthums”, Leipzig, 1714,51). D’Aubigné changes this Alexius into Alexis and has him assassinated at Erfurt (D’Aubigné, “History of the Reformation”, New York, s.d., I, 166). Oerger (“Vom jungen Luther”, Erfurt, 1899, 27-41) has proved the existence of this friend, his name of Alexius or Alexis, his death by lightning or assassination, a mere legend, destitute of all historical verification. Kostlin-Kawerau (I,45) states that returning from his “Mansfeld home he was overtaken by a terrible storm, with an alarming lightning flash and thunderbolt. Terrified and overwhelmed he cries out: ‘Help, St. Anna, I will be a monk’.” “The inner history of the change is far less easy to narrate. We have no direct contemporary evidence on which to rely; while Luther’s own reminiscences, on which we chiefly depend, are necessarily colored by his later experiences and feelings” (Beard, op.cit., 146).
Of Luther’s monastic life we have little authentic information, and that is based on his own utterances, which his own biographers frankly admit are highly exaggerated, frequently contradictory, and commonly misleading. Thus the alleged custom by which he was forced to change his baptismal name Martin into the monastic name Augustine, a proceeding he denounces as “wicked” and “sacrilegious”, certainly had no existence in the Augustinian Order. His accidental discovery in the Erfurt monastery library of the Bible, “a book he had never seen in his life” (Mathesius, op. cit.), or Luther’s assertion that he had “never seen a Bible until he was twenty years of age”, or his still more emphatic declaration that when Carlstadt was promoted to the doctorate “he had as yet never seen a Bible and I alone in the Erfurt monastery read the Bible”, which, taken in their literal sense, are not only contrary to demonstrable facts, but have perpetuated misconception, bear the stamp of improbability written in such obtrusive characters on their face, that it is hard, on an honest assumption, to account for their longevity. The Augustinian rule lays especial stress on the monition that the novice “read the Scripture assiduously, hear it devoutly, and learn it fervently” (Constitutiones Ordinis Fratr. Eremit. Sti. Augustini”, Rome, 1551, cap. xvii). At this very time Biblical studies were in a flourishing condition at the university, so that its historian states that “it is astonishing to meet such a great number of Biblical commentaries, which force us to conclude that theres an active study of Holy Writ” (Kampschulte, op.cit., I, 22). Protestant writers of repute have abandoned this legend altogether. Parenthetical mention must be made of the fact that the denunciation heaped on Luther’s novice-master by Mathesius, Ratzeberger, and Jurgens, and copied with uncritical docility by their transcribers — for subjecting him to the most abject menial duties and treating him with outrageous indignity — rests on no evidence. These writers are “evidently led by hearsay, and follow the legendary stories that have been spun about the person of the reformer” (Oerger, op.cit., 80). The nameless novice-master, whom even Luther designates as “an excellent man, and without doubt even under the damned cowl, a true Christian,” must “have been a worthy representative of his order” (Oerger, op.cit.).
Luther was ordained to the priesthood in 1507. The precise date is uncertain. A strange oversight, running through three centuries, placed the date of his ordination and first Mass on the same day, 2 May, an impossible coincidence. Kostlin, who repeated it (Luther’s Leben, I, 1883, 63) drops the date altogether in his latest edition. Oerger fixes on 27 February. This allows the unprecedented interval of more than two months to elapse between the ordination and first Mass. Could he have deferred his first Mass on account of the morbid scrupulosity, which played such a part in the later periods of his monastic life?
There is no reason to doubt that Luther’s monastic career thus far was exemplary, tranquil, happy; his heart at rest, his mind undisturbed, his soul at peace. The metaphysical disquisitions, psychological dissertations, pietistic maunderings about his interior conflicts, his theological wrestlings, his torturing asceticism, his chafing under monastic conditions, can have little more than an academic, possibly a psychopathic value. They lack all basis of verifiable data. Unfortunately Luther himself in his self-revelation can hardly be taken as a safe guide. Moreover, with an array of evidence, thoroughness of research, fullness of knowledge, and unrivalled mastery of monasticism, scholasticism, and mysticism, Denifle has removed it from the domain of debatable ground to that of verifiable certainty. “What Adolf Hausrath has done in an essay for the Protestant side, was accentuated and confirmed with all possible penetration by Denifle; the young Luther according to his self-revelation is unhistorical; he was not the discontented Augustinian, nagged by the monastic life, perpetually tortured by his conscience, fasting, praying, mortified, and emaciated — no, he was happy in the monastery, he found peace there, to which he turned his back only later” (Kohler, op.cit., 68-69).
During the winter of 1508-09 he was sent to the University of Wittenberg, then in its infancy (founded 2 July, 1502), with an enrolment of one hundred and seventy-nine students. The town itself was a poor insignificant place, with three hundred and fifty-six taxable properties, and accredited the most bibulous town of the most bibulous province (Saxony) of Germany. While teaching philosophy and dialectics he also continued his theological studies. On 9 March, 1509, under the deanship of Staupitz, he became Baccalaureus Biblicus in the theological course, as a stepping-stone to the doctorate. His recall to Erfurt occurred the same year.
His mission to Rome, extending over an estimated period of five months, one of which he spent in the city of Rome, which played so important a part in his early biographies, and even now is far from a negligible factor in Reformation research, occurred in 1511, or, as some contend, 1510. Its true object has thus far baffled all satisfactory investigation. Mathesius makes him go from Wittenberg on “monastic business”; Melancthon attributes it to a “monkish squabble”; Cochlaeus, and he is in the main followed by Catholic investigators, makes him appear as the delegated representative of seven allied Augustinian monasteries to voice a protest against some innovations of Staupitz, but as deserting his clients and siding with Staupitz. Protestants say he was sent to Rome as the advocate of Staupitz. Luther himself states that it was a pilgrimage in fulfilment of a vow to make a general confession in the Eternal City. The outcome of the mission, like its object, still remains shrouded in mystery. What was the effect of this Roman visit on his spiritual life or theological thought? Did “this visit turn his reverence for Rome into loathing”? Did he find it “a sink of iniquity, its priests infidels, the papal courtiers men of shameless lives?” (Lindsay, “Luther and the German Reformation”, New York, 1900). “He returned from Rome as strong in the faith as he went to visit it. In a certain sense his sojourn in Rome even strengthened his religious convictions” (Hausrath, op.cit., 98), “In his letters of those years he never mentions having been in Rome. In his conference with Cardinal Cajetan, in his disputations with Dr. Eck, in his letters to Pope Leo, nay, in his tremendous broadside of invective and accusation against all things Romish, in his ‘Address to the German Nation and Nobility’, there occurs not one unmistakable reference to his having been in Rome. By every rule of evidence we are bound to hold that when the most furious assailant Rome has ever known described from a distance of ten years upwards the incidents of a journey through Italy to Rome, the few touches of light in his picture are more trustworthy than its black breadths of shade” (Bayne, “Martin Luther”, I, 234). His whole Roman experience as expressed in later life is open to question. “We can really question the importance attached to remarks which in a great measure date from the last years of his life, when he was really a changed man. Much that he relates as personal experience is manifestly the product of an easily explained self-delusion” (Hausrath, op.cit., 79). One of the incidents of the Roman mission, which at one time was considered a pivotal point in his career, and was calculated to impart an inspirational character to the leading doctrine of the Reformation, and is still detailed by his biographers, was his supposed experience while climbing the Scala Santa. According to it, while Luther was in the act of climbimg the stairs on his knees, the thought suddenly flashed through his mind: “The just shall live by faith”, whereupon he immediately discontinued his pious devotion. The story rests on an autograph insertion of his son Paul in a Bible, now in possession of the library of Rudolstadt. In it he claims that his father told him the incident. Its historic value may be gauged by the considerations that it is the personal recollections of an immature lad (he was born in 1533) recorded twenty years after the event, to which neither his father, his early biographers, nor his table companions before whom it is claimed the remark was made, allude, though it could have been of primary importance. “It is easy to see the tendency here to date the (theological) attitude of the Reformer back into the days of his monastic faith” (Hausrath, op.cit., 48).
Having acquitted himself with evident success, and in a manner to please both parties, Luther returned to Wittenberg in 1512, and received the appointment of sub-prior. His academic promotions followed in quick succession. On 4 October he was made licentiate, and on 19 October, under the deanship of Carlstadt — successively friend, rival, and enemy — he was admitted to the doctorate, being then in his thirtieth year. On 22 October he was formally admitted to the senate of the faculty of theology, and received the appointment as lecturer on the Bible in 1513. His further appointment as district vicar in 1515 made him the official representative of the vicar-general in Saxony and Thuringia. His duties were manifold and his life busy. Little time was left for intellectual pursuits, and the increasing irregularity in the performance of his religious duties could only bode ill for his future. He himself tells us that he needed two secretaries or chancellors, wrote letters all day, preached at table, also in the monastery and parochial churches, was superintendent of studies, and as vicar of the order had as much to do as eleven priors; he lectured on the psalms and St. Paul, besides the demand made on his economic resourcefulness in managing a monastery of twenty-two priests, twelve young men, in all forty-one inmates. His official letters breathe a deep solicitude for the wavering, gentle sympathy for the fallen; they show profound touches of religious feeling and rare practical sense, though not unmarred with counsels that have unorthodox tendencies. The plague which afflicted Wittenberg in 1516 found him courageously at his post, which, in spite of the concern of his friends, he would not abandon.
But in Luther’s spiritual life significant, if not ominous, changes were likewise discernible. Whether he entered “the monastery and deserted the world to flee from despair” (Jurgens, op.cit., I,522) and did not find the coveted peace; whether the expressed apprehensions of his father that the “call from heaven” to the monastic life might be a “satanic delusion” stirred up thoughts of doubt; whether his sudden, violent resolve was the result of one of those “sporadic overmastering torpors which interrupt the circulatory system or indicate arterial convulsion” (Hausrath, “Luthers Leben”, I, 22), a heritage of his depressing childhood, and a chronic condition that clung to him to the end of his life; or whether deeper studies, for which he had little or no time, created doubts that would not be solved and aroused a conscience that would not be stilled, it is evident that his vocation, if it ever existed, was in jeopardy, that the morbid interior conflict marked a drifting from old moorings, and that the very remedies adopted to re-establish peace all the more effectually banished it. This condition of morbidity finally developed into formal scrupulosity. Infractions of the rules, breaches of discipline, distorted ascetic practices followed in quick succession and with increasing gravity; these, followed by spasmodic convulsive reactions, made life an agony. The solemn obligation of reciting the daily Office, an obligation binding under the penalty of mortal sin, was neglected to allow more ample time for study, with the result that the Breviary was abandoned for weeks. Then in paroxysmal remorse Luther would lock himself into his cell and by one retroactive act make amends for all he neglected; he would abstain from all food and drink, torture himself by harrowing mortifications, to an extent that not only made him the victim of insomnia for five weeks at one time, but threatened to drive him into insanity. The prescribed and regulated ascetical exercises were arbitrarily set aside. Disregarding the monastic regulations and the counsels of his confessor, he devised his own, which naturally gave him the character of singularity in his community. Like every victim of scrupulosity, he saw nothing in himself but wickedness and corruption. God was the minister of wrath and vengeance. His sorrow for sin was devoid of humble charity and childlike confidence in the pardoning mercy of God and Jesus Christ. This anger of God, which pursued him like his shadow, could only be averted by “his own righteousness”, by the “efficacy of servile works”. Such an attitude of mind was necessarily followed by hopeless discouragement and sullen despondency, creating a condition of soul in which he actually “hated God and was angry at him”, blasphemed God, and deplored that he was ever born. This abnormal condition produced a brooding melancholy, physical, mental, and spiritual depression, which later, by a strange process of reasoning, he ascribed to the teaching of the Church concerning good works, while all the time he was living in direct and absolute opposition to its doctrinal teaching and disciplinary code.
Of course this self-willed positiveness and hypochondriac asceticism, as usually happens in cases of morbidly scrupulous natures, found no relief in the sacraments. His general confessions at Erfurt and Rome did not touch the root of the evil. His whole being was wrought up to such an acute tension that he actually regretted his parents were not dead, that he might avail himself of the facilities Rome afforded to save them from purgatory. For religion’s sake he was ready to become “the most brutal murderer”, “to kill all who even by syllable refused submission to the pope” (Sämmtliche Werke, XXXX, Erlangen, 284). Such a tense and neurotic physical condition demanded a reaction, and, as frequently occurs in analogous cases, it went to the diametric extreme. The undue importance he had placed on his own strength in the spiritual process of justification, he now peremptorily and completely rejected. He convinced himself that man, as a consequence of original sin, was totally depraved, destitute of free will, that all works, even though directed towards the good, were nothing more than an outgrowth of his corrupted will, and in the judgments of God in reality mortal sins. Man can be saved by faith alone. Our faith in Christ makes His merits our possession, envelops us in the garb of righteousness, which our guilt and sinfulness hide, and supplies in abundance every defect of human righteousness. “Be a sinner and sin on bravely, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: sin must be committed. To you it ought to be sufficient that you acknowledge the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the sin cannot tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders” (Enders, “Briefwechsel”, III, 208). The new doctrine of justification by faith, now in its inchoate stage, gradually developed, and was finally fixed by Luther as one of the central doctrines of Christianity. The epoch-making event connected with the publication of the papal Bull of Indulgences in Germany, which was that of Julius II renewed in adaptable form by Leo X, to raise funds for the construction of St. Peter’s Church in Rome, brought his spiritual difficulties to a crisis.
Albert of Brandenburg was heavily involved in debt, not, as Protestant and Catholic historians relate, on account of his pallium, but to pay a bribe to an unknown agent in Rome, to buy off a rival, in order that the archbishop might enjoy a plurality of ecclesiastical offices. For this payment, which smacked of simony, the pope would allow an indemnity, which in this case took the form of an indulgence. By this ignoble business arrangement with Rome, a financial transaction unworthy of both pope and archbishop, the revenue should be partitioned in equal halves to each, besides a bonus of 10,000 gold ducats, which should fall to the share of Rome. John Tetzel, a Dominican monk with an impressive personality, a gift of popular oratory, and the repute of a successful indulgence preacher, was chosen by the archbishop as general-subcommissary. History presents few characters more unfortunate and pathetic than Tetzel. Among his contemporaries the victim of the most corrosive ridicule, every foul charge laid at his door, every blasphemous utterance placed in his mouth, a veritable fiction and fable built about his personality, in modern history held up as the proverbial mountebank and oily harlequin, denied even the support and sympathy of his own allies — Tetzel had to wait the light of modern critical scrutiny, not only for a moral rehabilitation, but also for vindication as a soundly trained theologian and a monk of irreproachable deportment. It was his preaching at Juterbog and Zerbst, towns adjoining Wittenberg, that drew hearers from there, who in turn presented themselves to Luther for confession, that made him take the step he had in contemplation for more than a year. It is not denied that a doctrine like that of the indulgences, which in some aspects was still a disputable subject in the schools, was open to misunderstanding by the laity; that the preachers in the heat of rhetorical enthusiasm fell into exaggerated statements, or that the financial considerations attached, though not of an obligatory character, led to abuse and scandal. The opposition to indulgences, not to the doctrine — which remains the same to this day — but to the mercantile methods pursued in preaching them, was not new or silent. Duke George of Saxony prohibited them in his territory, and Cardinal Ximenes, as early as 1513, forbade them in Spain.
On 31 October, 1517, the vigil of All Saints’, Luther affixed to the castle church door, which served as the “black-board” of the university, on which all notices of disputations and high academic functions were displayed, his Ninety-five Theses. The act was not an open declaration of war, but simply an academic challenge to a disputation. “Such disputations were regarded in the universities of the Middle Ages partly as a recognized means of defining and elucidating truth, partly as a kind of mental gymnastic apt to train and quicken the faculties of the disputants. It was not understood that a man was always ready to adopt in sober earnest propositions which he was willing to defend in the academic arena; and in like manner a rising disputant might attack orthodox positions, without endangering his reputation for orthodoxy” (Beard, op. cit.). The same day he sent a copy of the Theses with an explanatory letter to the archbishop. The latter in turn submitted them to his councillors at Aschaffenburg and to the professors of the University of Mainz. The councillors were of the unanimous opinion that they were of an heretical character, and that proceedings against the Wittenberg Augustinian should be taken. This report, with a copy of the Theses, was then transmitted to the pope. It will thus be seen that the first judicial procedure against Luther did not emanate from Tetzel. His weapons were to be literary.
Tetzel, more readily than some of the contemporary brilliant theologians, divined the revolutionary import of the Theses, which while ostensibly aimed at the abuse of indulgences, were a covert attack on the whole penitential system of the Church and struck at the very root of ecclesiastical authority. Luther’s Theses impress the reader “as thrown together somewhat in haste”, rather than showing “carefully digested thought, and delicate theological intention”; they “bear him one moment into the audacity of rebellion and then carry him back to the obedience of conformity” (Beard, 218, 219). Tetzel’s anti-theses were maintained partly in a disputation for the doctorate at Frankfort-on-the-Oder (20 Jan., 1518), and issued with others in am unnumbered list, and are commonly known as the One Hundred and Six Theses. They, however, did not have Tetzel for their author, but were promptly and rightfully attributed to Conrad Wimpina, his teacher at Leipzig. That this fact argues no ignorance of theology or unfamiliarity with Latin on the part of Tetzel, as has been generally assumed, is frankly admitted by Protestant writers. It was simply a legitimate custom pursued in academic circles, as we know from Melancthon himself.
Tetzel’s Theses — for he assumed all responsibility — opposed to Luther’s innovations the traditional teaching of the church; but it must be admitted that they at times gave an uncompromising, even dogmatic, sanction to mere theological opinions, that were hardly consonant with the most accurate scholarship. At Wittenberg they created wild excitement, and an unfortunate hawker who offered them for sale, was mobbed by the students, and his stock of about eight hundred copies publicly burned in the market square — a proceeding that met with Luther’s disapproval. The plea then made, and still repeated, that it was done in retaliation for Tetzel’s burning Luther’s Theses, is admittedly incorrect, in spite of the fact that it has Melancthon as sponsor. Instead of replying to Tetzel, Luther carried the controversy from the academic arena to the public forum by issuing in popular vernacular form his “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace”. It was really a tract, where the sermon form was abandoned and twenty propositions laid down. At the same time his Latin defence of the Theses, the “Resolutiones”, was well under way. In its finished form, it was sent to his ordinary, Bishop Scultetus of Brandenburg, who counselled silence and abstention from all further publications for the present. Luther’s acquiescence was that of the true monk: “I am ready, and will rather obey than perform miracles in my justification.”
At this stage a new source of contention arose. Johann Eck, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ingoldstadt, by common consent acknowledged as one of the foremost theological scholars of his day, endowed with rare dialectical skill and phenomenal memory, all of which Luther candidly admitted before the Leipzig disputation took place, innocently became involved in the controversy. At the request of Bishop von Eyb, of Eichstatt, he subjected the Theses to a closer study, singled out eighteen of them as concealing the germ of the Hussite heresy, violating Christian charity, subverting the order of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and breeding sedition. These “Obelisci” (“obelisks”, the odd printer’s device for noting doubtful or spurious passages) were submitted to the bishop in manuscript form, passed around among intimates, and not intended for publication. In one of the transcribed forms, they reached Luther and wrought him up to a high pitch of indignation. Eck in a letter of explanation sought to mollify the ruffled tempers of Carlstadt and Luther and in courteous, urgent tones begged them to refrain from public disputation either by lecture or print. In spite of the fact that Carlstadt forestalled Luther, the latter gave out his “Asterisci” (10 August, 1518). This skirmish led to the Leipzig Disputation. Sylvester Prierias, like Tetzel, a Dominican friar, domestic theologian of the Court of Rome, in his official capacity as Censor Librorum of Rome, next submitted his report “In praesumtuosas M. Lutheri, Conclusiones Dialogus”. In it he maintained the absolute supremacy of the pope, in terms not altogether free from exaggeration, especially stretching his theory to an unwarrantable point in dealing with indulgences. This evoked Luther’s “Responsio ad Silv. Prierietatis Dialogum”. Hoogstraten, whose merciless lampooning in the “Epistolae Obscurorum Vivorum” was still a living memory, likewise entered the fray in defence of the papal prerogatives, only to be dismissed by Luther’s “Schedam contra Hochstratanum”, the flippancy and vulgarity of which one of Luther’s most ardent students apologetically characterizes as being “in tone with the prevailing taste of the time and the circumstances, but not to be commended as worthy of imitation” (Loscher, op.cit., II, 325).
Before the “Dialogus” of Prierias reached Germany, a papal citation reached Luther (7 August) to appear in person within sixty days in Rome for a hearing. He at once took refuge in the excuse that such a trip could not be undertaken without endangering his life; he sought influence to secure the refusal of a safe-conduct through the electorate and brought pressure to bear on the Emperor Maximilian and Elector Frederick to have the hearing and judges appointed in Germany. The university sent letters to Rome and to the nuncio Miltitz sustaining the plea of “infirm health” and vouching for his orthodoxy. His literary activity continued unabated. His “Resolutiones”, which were already completed, he also sent to the pope (30 May). The letter accompanying them breathes the most loyal expression of confidence and trust in the Holy See, and is couched in such terms of abject subserviency and fulsome adulation, that its sincerity and frankness, followed as it was by such an almost instantaneous revulsion, is instinctively questioned. Moreover before this letter had been written his anticipatory action in preaching his “Sermon on the Power of Excommunication” (16 May), in which it is contended that visible union with the Church is not broken by excommunication, but by sin alone, only strengthens the surmise of a lack of good faith. The inflammatory character of this sermon was fully acknowledged by himself.
Influential intervention had the effect of having the hearing fixed during the Diet of Augsburg, which was called to effect an alliance between the Holy See, the Emperor Maximilian, and King Christian of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, in the war against the Turks. In the official instructions calling the Diet, the name or cause of Luther does not figure.
The papal legate, Cajetan, and Luther met face to face for the first time at Augsburg on 11 October. Cajetan (b. 1470) was “one of the most remarkable figures woven into the history of the Reformation on the Roman side…a man of erudition and blameless life” (Weizacker); he was a doctor of philosophy before he was twenty-one, at this early age filling chairs with distinction in both sciences at some of the leading universities; in humanistic studies he was so well versed as to enter the dialectic arena against Pico della Mirandola when only twenty-four. Surely no better qualified man could be detailed to adjust the theological difficulties. But the audiences were doomed to failure. Cajetan came to adjudicate, Luther to defend; the former demanded submission, the latter launched out into remonstrance; the one showed a spirit of mediating patience, the other mistook it for apprehensive fear; the prisoner at the bar could not refrain from bandying words with the judge on the bench. The legate, with the reputation of “the most renowned and easily the first theologian of his age”, could not fail to be shocked at the rude, discourteous, bawling tone of the friar, and having exhausted all his efforts, he dismissed him with the injunction not to call again until he recanted. Fiction and myth had a wide sweep in dealing with this meeting and have woven such an inextricable web of obscurity about it that we must follow either the highly coloured narratives of Luther and his friends, or be guided by the most trustworthy criterion of logical conjecture.
The papal Brief to Cajetan (23 August), which was handed to Luther at Nuremberg on his way home, in which the pope, contrary to all canonical precedents, demands the most summary action in regard to the uncondemned and unexcommunicated “child of iniquity”, asks the aid of the emperor, in the event of Luther’s refusal to appear in Rome, to place him under forcible arrest, was no doubt written in Germany, and is an evident forgery (Beard, op. cit., 257-258; Ranke, “Deutsche Gesch.” VI, 97-98). Like all forged papal documents, it still shows a surprising vitality, and is found in every biography of Luther.
Luther’s return to Wittenberg occurred on the anniversary of his nailing the Theses to the castle church door (31 October, 1518). All efforts towards a recantation having failed, and now assured of the sympathy and support of the temporal princes, he followed his appeal to the pope by a new appeal to an ecumenical council (28 November, 1518), which, as will be seen later, he again, denying the authority of both, followed by an appeal to the Bible.
The appointment of Karl von Miltitz, the young Saxon nobleman in minor orders, sent as nuncio to deliver the Golden Rose to the Elector Frederick, was unfortunate and abortive. The Golden Rose was not offered as a sop to secure the good graces of the elector, but in response to prolonged and importunate agitation on his part to get it (Hausrath, “Luther”, I, 276). Miltitz not only lacked prudence and tact, but in his frequent drinking bouts lost all sense of diplomatic reticence; by continually borrowing from Luther’s friends he placed himself in a position only to inspire contempt. It is true that his unauthorized overtures drew from Luther an act, which if it “is no recantation, is at least remarkably like one” (Beard, op.cit., 274). In it he promised:
to observe silence if his assailants did the same;
complete submission to the pope;
to publish a plain statement to the public advocating loyalty to the Church;
to place the whole vexatious case in the hands of a delegated bishop.
The whole transaction closed with a banquet, an embrace, tears of joy, and a kiss of peace – only to be disregarded and ridiculed afterwards by Luther. The nuncio’s treatment of Tetzel was severe and unjust. When the sick and ailing man could not come to him on account of the heated public sentiment against him, Miltitz on his visit to Leipzig summoned him to a meeting, in which he overwhelmed him with reproaches and charges, stigmatized him as the originator of the whole unfortunate affair, threatened the displeasure of the pope, and no doubt hastened the impending death of Tetzel (1 August, 1519).
While the preliminaries of the Leipzig Disputation were pending, a true insight into Luther’s real attitude towards the papacy, the subject which would form the main thesis of discussion, can best be gleaned from his own letters. On 3 March, 1519, he writes Leo X: “Before God and all his creatures, I bear testimony that I neither did desire, nor do desire to touch or by intrigue to undermine the authority of the Roman Church and that of your holiness” (De Wette, op. cit., I, 234). Two days later (5 March) he writes to Spalatin: “It was never my intention to revolt from the Roman Apostolic chair” (De Wette, op. cit., I, 236). Ten days later (13 March) he writes to the same: “I am at a loss to know whether the pope be antichrist or his apostle” (De Wette, op. cit., I, 239). A month before this (20 Feb.) he thanks Scheurl for sending him the foul “Dialogue of Julius and St. Peter”, a most poisonous attack on the papacy, saying he is sorely tempted to issue it in the vernacular to the public (De Wette, op. cit., I, 230). “To prove Luther’s consistency – to vindicate his conduct at all points, as faultless both in veracity and courage – under those circumstances, may be left to myth-making simpletons” (Bayne, op. cit., I, 457).
The Leipzig disputation was an important factor in fixing the alignment of both disputants, and forcing Luther’s theological evolution. It was an outgrowth of the “Obelisci” and “Asterisci”, which was taken up by Carlstadt during Luther’s absence at Heidelberg in 1518. It was precipitated by the latter, and certainly not solicited or sought by Eck. Every obstacle was placed in the wayof its taking place, only to be brushed aside. The Bishops of Merseburg and Brandenburg issued their official inhibitions; the theological faculty of the leipzig University sent a letter of protest to Luther not to meddle in an affair that was purely Carlstadt’s, and another to Duke George to prohibit it. Scheurl, then an intimate of Luther’s, tried to dissuade him from the meeting; Eck, in terms pacific and dignified, replied to Carlstadt’s offensive, and Luther’s pugnacious letters, in fruitless endeavour to avert all public controversy either in print or lecture; Luther himself, pledged and forbidden all public discourse or print, begged Duke Frederick to make an endeavour to bring about the meeting (De Wette, op.cit., I, 175) at the same time that he personally appealed to Duke George for permission to allow it, and this in spite of the fact that he had already given the theses against Eck to the public. In the face of such urgent pressure Eck could not fail to accept the challenge. Even at this stage Eck and Carlstadt were to be the accredited combatants, and the formal admission of Luther into the disputation was only determined upon when the disputants were actually at Leipzig.
The disputation on Eck’s twelve, subsequently thirteen, theses, was opened with much parade and ceremony on 27 June, and the university aula being too small, was conducted at the Pleissenburg Castle. The wordy battle was between Carlstadt and Eck on the subject of Divine grace and human free will. As is well known, it ended in the former’s humiliating discomfiture. Luther and Eck’s discussion, 4 July, was on papal supremacy. The former, though gifted with a brilliant readiness of speech, lacked – and his warmest admirers admit it – the quiet composure, curbed self-restraint, and unruffled temper of a good disputant. The result was that the imperturbable serenity and unerring confidence of Eck, had an exasperating effect on him. He was “querulous and censorious”, “arbitrary and bitter” (Mosellanus), which hardly contributed to the advantage of his cause, either in argumentation or with his hearers. Papal supremacy was denied by him, because it found no warrant in Holy Writ or in Divine right. Eck’s comments on the “pestilential” errors of Wiclif and Hus condemned by the Council of Constance was met by the reply, that, so far as the position of the Hussites was concerned, there were among them many who were “very Christian and evangelical”. Eck took his antagonist to task for placing the individual in a position to understand the Bible better than the popes, councils, doctors, and universities, and in pressing his argument closer, asserting that the condemned Bohemians would not hesitate to hail him as their patron, elicited the ungentle remonstrance “that is a shameless lie”. Eck, undisturbed and with the instinct of the trained debater, drove his antagonist still further, until he finally admitted the fallibility of an ecumenical council,upon which he closed the discussion with the laconic remark: “If you believe a legitimately assembled council can err and has erred,then you are to me as a heathen and publican” (Köstlin-Kawerau, op. cit., I, 243-50). This was 15 July. Luther returned sullen and crestfallen to Wittenberg, from what had proved to him an inglorious tournament.
The disastrous outcome of the disputation drove him to reckless, desperate measures. He did not scruple, at this stage, to league himself with the most radical elements of national humanism and freebooting knighthood, who in their revolutionary propaganda hailed him as a most valuable ally. His comrades in arms now were Ulrich von Hutten and Franz von Sickingen, with the motley horde of satellites usually found in the train of such leadership. With Melancthon, himself a humanist, as an intermediary, a secret correspondence was opened with Hutten, and to all appearances Sickingen was directly or indirectly in frequent communication. Hutten, though a man of uncommon talent and literary brilliancy, a moral degenerate, without conscience or character. Sickingen, the prince of condottieri, was a solid mercenary and political marplot, whose daring deeds and murderous atrocities form a part of German legendary lore. With his three impregnable fastnesses, Ebernburg, Landstuhl, and Hohenburg, with their adventurous soldiery, fleet-footed cavalry, and primed artillery, “who took to robbery as to a trade and considered it rather an honour to be likened to wolves” (Cammbridge Hist., II,154), a menace to the very empire, he was a most useful adjunct. With Luther they had little in common, for both were impervious to all religious impulses, unless it was their deadly hatred of the pope, and the confiscation of church property and land. The disaffection among the knights was particularly acute. The flourishing condition of industry made the agrarian interests of the small landowners suffer; the new methods of warfare diminished their political importance; the adoption of the Roman law while it strengthened the territorial lords, threatened to reduce the lower nobility to a condition of serfdom. A change, even though it involved revolution, was desired, and Luther and his movement were welcomed as the psychological man and cause. Hutten offered his pen, a formidable weapon; Sickingen his fortress, a haven of safety; the former assured him of the enthusiastic support of the national humanists, the latter “bade him stand firm and offered to encircle him with …swords” (Bayne, op. cit., II,59). The attack would be made on the ecclesiastical princes, as opposed to Lutheran doctrines and knightly privileges. In the meantime Luther was saturating himself with published and unpublished humanistic anti-clerical literature so effectually that his passionate hatred of Rome and the pope, his genesis of Antichrist, his contemptuous scorn for his theological opponents, his effusive professions of patriotism, his acquisition of the literary amenities of the “Epistolae Obscurorum Vivorum”, even the bodily absorption of Hutten’s arguments, not to allude to other conspicuous earmarks of his intercourse and association with the humanistic-political agitators, can be unerringly traced here. It was while living in the atmosphere surcharged with these influences, that he issued his first epochal manifesto, “Address to the German Nobility”. It is in “its form an imitation of Hutten’s circular letter to the emperor and German nobility”, and the greater part of its contents is an abstract of Hutten’s “Vadiscus or Roman Trinity”, from his “Lament and Exhortation”, and from his letters to the Elector Frederick of Saxony. This seems to be admitted by competent Lutheran specialists. He steps from the arena of academic gravity and verbal precision to the forum of the public in “an invective of dazzling rhetoric”. He addresses the masses; his language is that of the populace; his theological attitude is abandoned; his sweeping eloquence fairly carries the emotional nature of his hearers — while even calm, critical reason stands aghast, dumbfounded; he becomes the hieratic interpreter, the articulate voice of latent slumbering national aspirations. In one impassioned outburst, he cuts from all his Catholic moorings — the merest trace left seeming to intensify his fury. Church and State, religion and politics, ecclesiastical reform and social advancement, are handled with a flaming, peerless oratory. He speaks with reckless audacity; he acts with breathless daring. War and revolution do not make him quail — has he not the pledged support of Ulrich von Hutten, Franz von Sickingen, Sylvester von Schaumburg? Is not the first the revolutionary master spirit of his age — cannot the second make even an emperor bow to his terms? The “gospel”, he now sees, “cannot be introduced without tumult, scandal, and rebellion”; “the word of God is a sword, a war, a destruction, a scandal, a ruin, a poison” (De Wette, op.cit., I, 417). As for pope, cardinals, bishops, “and the whole brood of Roman Sodom”, why not attack it “with every sort of weapon and wash our hands in its blood” (Walch, XVIII, 245).
Luther the reformer had become Luther the revolutionary; the religious agitation had become a political rebellion. Luther’s theological attitude at this time, as far as a formulated cohesion can be deduced, was as follows: The Bible is the only source of faith; it contains the plenary inspiration of God; its reading is invested with a quasi-sacramental character. Human nature has been totally corrupted by original sin, and man, accordingly, is deprived of free will. Whatever he does, be it good or bad, is not his own work, but God’s. Faith alone can work justification, and man is saved by confidently believing that God will pardon him. This faith not only includes a full pardon of sin, but also an unconditional release from its penalties. The hierarchy and priesthood are not Divinely instituted or necessary, and ceremonial or exterior worship is not essential or useful. Ecclesiastical vestments, pilgrimages, mortifications, monastic vows, prayers for the dead, intercession of saints, avail the soul nothing. All sacraments, with the exception of baptism, Holy Eucharist, and penance, are rejected, but their absence may be supplied by faith. The priesthood is universal; every Christian may assume it. A body of specially trained and ordained men to dispense the mysteries of God is needless and a usurpation. There is no visible Church or one specially established by God whereby men may work out their salvation. The emperor is appealed to in his three primary pamphlets, to destroy the power of the pope, to confiscate for his own use all ecclesiastical property, to abolish ecclesiastical feasts, fasts, and holidays, to do away with Masses for the dead, etc. In his “Babylonian Captivity”, particularly, he tries to arouse national feeling against the papacy, and appeals to the lower appetite of the crowd by laying down a sensualized code of matrimonial ethics, little removed from paganism, which “again come to the front during the French Revolution” (Hagen, “Deutsche literar. u. religiöse Verhaltnisse”, II, Erlangen, 1843, 235). His third manifesto, “On the Freedom of a Christian Man”, more moderate in tone, though uncompromisingly radical, he sent to the pope.
In April, 1520, Eck appeared in Rome, with the German works, containing most of these doctrines, translated into Latin. They were submitted and discussed with patient care and critical calmness. Some members of the four consisteries, held between 21 May and 1 June, counselled gentleness and forbearance, but those demanding summary procedure prevailed. The Bull of excommunication, “Exsurge Domine”, was accordingly drawn up 15 July. It formally condemned forty-one propositions drawn from his writings, ordered the destruction of the books containing the errors, and summoned Luther himself to recant within sixty days or receive the full penalty of ecclesiastical punishment. Three days later (18 July) Eck was appointed papal prothonotary with the commission to publish the Bull in Germany. The appointment of Eck was both unwise and imprudent. Luther’s attitude towards him was that of implacable personal hatred; the dislike of him among the humanists was decidedly virulent; his unpopularity among Catholics was also well known. Moreover, his personal feelings, as the relentless antagonist of Luther, could hardly be effaced, so that a cause which demanded the most untrammelled exercise of judicial impartiality and Christian charity would hardly find its best exponent in a man in whom individual triumph would supersede the pure love of justice. Eck saw this, and accepted the duty only under compulsion. His arrival in Germany was signalized by an outburst of popular protest and academic resentment, which the national humanists and friends of Luther lost no time in fanning to a fierce flame. He was barely allowed to publish the Bull in Meissen (21 Sept.), Merseburg (25 Sept.), and Brandenburg (29 Sept.), and a resistance almost uniform greeted him in all other parts of Germany. He was subjected to personal affronts, mob violence. The Bull itself became the object of shocking indignities. Only after protracted delays could even the bishops be induced to show it any deference. The crowning dishonour awaited it at Wittenberg, where (10 Dec.), in response to a call issued by Melancthon, the university students assembled at the Elster Gate, and amid the jeering chant of “Te Deum laudamus”, and “Requiem aeternam”, interspersed with ribald drinking songs, Luther in person consigned it to the flames.
The Bull seemingly affected him little. It only drove him to further extremes and gave a new momentum to the revolutionary agitation. As far back as 10 July, when the Bull was only under discussion, he scornfully defied it. “As for me, the die is cast: I despise alike the favour and fury of Rome; I do not wish to be reconciled with her, or ever to hold any communion with hher. Let her condemn and burn my books; I, in turn, unless I can find no fire, will condemn and publicly burn the whole pontifical law, that swamp of heresies” (De Wette, op. cit., 466).
The next step, the enforcement of the provisions of the Bull, was the duty of the civil power. This was done, in the face of vehement opposition now manifesting itself, at the Diet of Worms, when the young newly-crowned Charles V was for the first time to meet the assembled German Estates in solemn deliberation. Charles, though not to be ranked with the greatest characters of history, was “an honourable Christian gentleman, striving in spite of physical defect, moral temptations, and political impossibilities, to do his duty in that state of life to which an unkind Providence had called him” (Armstrong, “The Emperor Charles V”, II, London, 1902, 383). Great and momentous questions, national and religious, social and economic, were to be submitted for consideration — but that of Luther easily became paramount. The pope sent two legates to represent him — Marino Carricioli, to whom the political problems were entrusted, and Jerome Aleander, who should grapple with the more pressing religious one. Aleander was a man of brilliant, even phenomenal, intellectual and linguistic endowments, a man of the world almost modern in his progressive ideas, a trained statesman, not altogether free from the zeal and cunning which at times enter the game of diplomacy. Like his staunch supporter, the Elector George of Saxony, he was not only open-minded enough to admit the deplorable corruption of the Church, the grasping cupidity of Roman curial procedure, the cold commercialism and deep-seated immorality that infected many of the clergy, but, like him, he was courageous enough to denounce them with freedom and point to the pope himself. His problem, by the singular turn of events, was to become the gravest that confronted not only the Diet, but Christendom itself. Its solution or failure was to be pregnant with a fate that involved Church and State, and would guide the course of the world’s history. Germany was living on a politico-religious volcano. All walks of life were in a convulsive state of unrest that boded ill for Church and State. Luther by his inflammatory denunciation of pope and clergy let loose a veritable hurricane of fierce, uncontrollable racial and religious hatred, which was to spend itself in the bloodshed of the Peasant’s War and the orgies of the sack of Rome; his adroit juxtaposition of the relative powers and wealth of the temporal and spiritual estates fostered jealousy and avarice; the chicanery of the revolutionary propagandists and pamphleteering poetasters lit up the nation with rhetorical fireworks, in which sedition and impiety, artfully garbed in Biblical phraseology and sanctimonious platitudes, posed as “evangelical” liberty and pure patriotism; the restive peasants, victims of oppression and poverty, after futile and sporadic uprisings, lapsed into stifled but sullen and resentful malcontents; the unredressed wrongs of the burghers and labourers in the populous cities clamoured for a change, and the victims were prepared to adopt any method to shake off disabilities daily becoming more irksome; the increasing expense of living, the decreasing economic advancement, goaded the impecunious knights to desperation, their very lives since 1495 being nothing more than a struggle for existence; the territorial lords cast envious eyes on the teeming fields of the monasteries and the princely ostentation of church dignitaries, and did not scruple in the vision of a future German autonomy to treat even the “Spanish” sovereign with dictatorial arrogance or tolerant complacency. The city of Worms itself was within the grasp of a reign of lawlessness, debauchery, and murder. From the bristling Ebernburg, Sickingen’s lair, only six miles fromm the city, Hutten was hurling his truculent philippics, threatening with outrage and death the legate (whom he had failed to waylay), the spiritual princes and church dignitaries, not sparing even the emperor, whose pension as a bribe to silence had hardly been received. Germany was in a reign of terror; consternation seemed to paralyze all minds. A fatal blow was to be struck at the clergy, it was whispered, and then the famished knights would scramble for their property. Over all loomed the formidable apparition of Sickingen. He was in Aleander’s opinion “sole king of Germany now; for he has a following, when and as large as he wishes. The emperor is unprotected, the princes are inactive; the prelates quake with fear. Sickingen at the moment is the terror of Germany before whom all quail” (Brieger, “Aleander u. Luther”, Gotha, 1884, 125). “If a proper leader could be found, the elements of revolution were already at hand, and only awaited the signal for an outbreak” (Maurenbrecher, op. cit., 246).
Such was the critical national and local ferment, when Luther at the psychological moment was projected into the foreground by the Diet of Worms, where “the devils on the roofs of the houses were rather friendly…than otherwise” (Cambridge Hist., II, 147), to appear as the champion against Roman corruption, which in the prevailing frenzy became the expression of national patriotism. “He was the hero of the hour solely because he stood for the national opposition to Rome” (ibid., 148). His first hearing before the Diet (17 April) found him not precisely in the most confident mood. Acknowledging his works, he met the further request that he recall them by a timid reply, “in tones so subdued that they could hardly be heard with distincness in his vicinity”, that he be given time for reflection. His assurance did not fail him at the second hearing (18 April) when his expected steadfastness asserted itself, and his refusal was uttered with steady composure and firm voice, in Latin and German, that, unless convinced of his errors by the Scriptures or plain reason, he would not recant. “I neither can nor will recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to act against one’s conscience”, adding in German — “God help me, Amen.” The emperor took action the next day (19 April) by personally writing to the Estates, that true to the traditions of his Catholic forefathers, he placed his faith in the Christian doctrine and the Roman Church, in the Fathers, in the councils representing Christendom, rather than in the teaching of an individual monk, and ordered Luther’s departure. “The word which I pledged him”, he concludes, “and the promised safe-conduct he will receive. Be assured, he will return unmolested whence he came” (Forstemann, “Neues Urkundenbuch”, I, Hamburg, 1842, 75). All further negotiations undertaken in the meantime to bring about an adjustment having failed, Luther was ordered to return, but forbidden to preach or publish while on the way. The edict, drafted (8 May) was signed 26 May, but was only to be promulgated after the expiration of the time allowed in the safe-conduct. It placed Luther under the ban of the empire and ordered the destruction of his writings.
It may not be amiss to state that the historicity of Luther’s famed declaration before the assembled Diet, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me, God. Amen”, has been successfully challenged and rendered inadmissible by Protestant researches. Its retention in some of the larger biographies and histories, seldom if ever without laborious qualification, can only be ascribed to the deathless vitality of a sacred fiction or an absence of historical rectitude on the part of the writer.
He left Worms 26 April, for Wittenberg, in the custody of a party consisting mainly, if not altogether, of personal friends. By a secret agreement, of which he was fully cognizant, being apprised of it the night before his departure by the Elector Frederick, though he was unaware of his actual destination, he was ambushed by friendly hands in the night of 4 May, and spirited to the Castle of Wartburg, near Eisenach.
The year’s sojourn in the Wartburg marks a new and decisive period in his life and career. Left to the seclusion of his own thoughts and reflections, undisturbed by the excitement of political and polemical agitation, he became the victim of an interior struggle that made him writhe in the throes of racking anxiety, distressing doubts and agonizing reproaches of conscience. With a directness that knew no escape, he was now confronted by the poignant doubts aroused by his headlong course: was he justified in his bold and unprecedented action; were not his innovations diametrically opposed to the history and experience of spiritual and human order as it prevailed from Apostolic times; was he, “he alone”, the chosen vessel singled out in preference to all the saints of Christendom to inaugurate these radical changes; was he not responsible for the social and political upheaval, the rupture of Christian unity and charity, and the consequent ruin of immortal souls? To this was added an irrepressible outbreak of sensuality which assailed him with unbridled fury, a fury that was all the more fierce on account of the absence of the approved weapons of spiritual defence, as well as the intensifying stimulus of his imprudent gratification of his appetite for eating and drinking. And, in addition to his horror, his temptations, moral and spiritual, becamme vivid realities; satanic manifestations were frequent and alarming; nor did they consist in mere verbal encounters but in personal collision. His disputation with Satan on the Mass has become historical. His life as Juncker George, his neglect of the old monastic dietetic restrictions, racked hsi body in paroxysms of pain, “which did not fail to give colour to the tone of his polemical writings” (Hausrath, op. cit., I, 476), nor sweeten the acerbity of his temper, nor soften the coarseness of his speech. However, many writers regard his satanic manifestations as pure delusions. It was while he was in these sinister moods that his friends usually were in expectant dread that the flood of his exhaustless abuse and unparalleled scurrility would dash itself against the papacy, Church, and monasticism. “I will curse and scold the scoundrels until I go to my grave, and never shall they hear a civil word from me. I will toll them to their graves with thunder and lightning. For I am unable to pray without at the same time cursing. If I am prompted to say: ‘hallowed be Thy name’, I must add: ‘cursed, damned, outraged be the name of the papists’. If I am prompted to say: ‘Thy Kingdom come’, I must perforce add: ‘cursed, damned, destroyed must be the papacy’. Indeed I pray thus orally every day and in my heart without intermission” (Sammtl. W., XXV, 108). Need we be surprised that one of his old admirers, whose name figured with his on the original Bull of excommunication, concludes that Luther “with his shameless, ungovernable tongue, must have lapsed into insanity or been inspired by the Evil Spirit” (Pirkheimer, ap. *Döllinger, “Die Reformation”, Ratisbon, I, 1846-48).
While at the Wartburg, he published “On Confession”, which cut deeper into the mutilated sacramental system he retained by lopping off penance. This he dedicated to Franz von Sickingen. His replies to Latomus of Louvain and Emser, his old antagonist, and to the theological faculty of the University of Paris, are characterized by his proverbial spleen and discourtesy. Of the writings of his antagonists he invariably “makes an arbitrary caricature and he belabours them in blind rage…he hurls at them the most passionate replies” (Lange, “Martin Luther, ein religioses Characterbild”, Berlin, 1870, 109) His reply to the papal Bull “In coena Domini”, written in colloquial German, appeals to the grossest sense of humor and sacrilegious banter.
His chief distinction while at the Wartburg, and one that will always be inseparably connected with his name, was his translation of the New Testament into German. The invention of printing gave a vigourous impetus to the multiplication of copies of the Bible, so that fourteen editions and reprints of German translations from 1466 to 1522 are known to have existed. But their antiquated language, their uncritical revision, and their puerile glosses, hardly contributed to their circulation. To Luther the vernacular Bible became a necessary adjunct, an indispensable necessity. His subversion of the spiritual order, abolition of ecclesiastical science, rejection of the sacraments, suppression of ceremonies, degradation of Christian art, demanded a substitute, and a more available one than the “undefiled Word of God”, in association with “evangelical preaching” could hardly be found. In less than three months the first copy of the translated New Testament was ready for the press. Assisted by Melancthon, Spalatin, and others whose services he found of use, with the Greek version of Erasmus as a basis, with notes and comments charged with polemical animus and woodcuts of an offensively vulgar character supplied by Cranach, and sold for a trivial sum, it was issued at Wittenberg in September. Its spread was so rapid that a second edition was called for as early as December. Its linguistic merits were indisputable; its influence on national literature most potent. Like all his writings in German, it was the speech of the people; it struck the popular taste and charmed the national ear. It unfolded the affluence, clarity, and vigour of the German tongue in a manner and with a result that stands almost without a parallel in the history of German literature. That he is the creator of the new High German literary language is hardly in harmony with the facts and researches of modern philological science. While from the standpoint of the philologist it is worthy of the highest commendation, theologically it failed in the essential elements of a faithful translation. By attribution and suppression, mistranslation and wanton garbling, he made it the medium of attacking the old Church, and vindicating his individual doctrines.
A book that helped to depopulate the sanctuary and monastery in Germany, one that Luther himself confessed to be his most unassailable pronouncement, one that Melancthon hailed as a work of rare learning, and which many Reformation specialists pronounce, both as to contents and results, his most important work, had its origin in the Wartburg. It was his “Opinion on Monastic Orders”. Dashed off at white heat and expressed with that whirlwind impetuosity that made him so powerful a leader, it made the bold proclamation of a new code of ethics: that concupiscence is invincible, the sensual instincts irrepressible, the gratification of sexual propensities as natural and inexorable as the performance of any of the physiological necessities of our being. It was a trumpet call to priest, monk, and nun to break their vows of chastity and enter matrimony. The “impossibility” of successful resistance to our natural sensual passions was drawn with such dazzling rhetorical fascination that the salvation of the soul, the health of the body, demanded an instant abrogation of the laws of celibacy. Vows were made to Satan, not to God; the devil’s law was absolutely renounced by taking a wife or husband. The consequences of such a moral code were immediate and general. They are evident from the stinging rebuke of his old master, Staupitz, less than a year after its promulgation, that the most vociferous advocates of his old pupil were the frequenters of notorious houses, not synonymous with a high type of decency. To us the whole treatise would have nothing more than an archaic interest were it not that it inspired the most notable contribution to Reformation history written in modern times, Denifle’s “Luther and Luthertum” (Mainz, 1904). In it Luther’s doctrines, writings, and sayings have been subjected to so searching an analysis, his historical inaccuracies have been proved so flagrant, his conception of monasticism such a caricature, his knowledge of Scholasticism so superficial, his misrepresentation of medieval theology so unblushing, his interpretation of mysticism so erroneous, and this with such a merciless circumstantial mastery of detail, as to cast the shadow of doubt on the whole fabric of Reformation history.
In the middle of the summer of this year (4 August) he sent his reply to the “Defense of the Seven Sacraments” by King Henry VIII. Its only claim to attention is its tone of proverbial coarseness and scurrility. The king is not only an “impudent liar”, but is deluged with a torrent of foul abuse, and every unworthy motive is attributed to him. It meant, as events proved, in spite of Luther’s tardy and sycophantic apologies, the loss of England to the German Reformation movement. About this time he issued in Latin and German his broadside, “Against the falsely called spiritual state of Pope and Bishops”, in which his vocabulary of vituperation attains a height equalled only by himself, and then on but one or two occasions. Seemingly aware of the incendiary character of his language, he tauntingly asks: “But they say, ‘there is fear that a rebellion may arise against the spiritual Estate’. Then the reply is ‘Is it just that souls are slaughtered eternally, that these mountebanks may disport themselves quietly’? It were better that all bishops should be murdered, and all religious foundations and monasteries razed to the ground, than that one soul should perish, not to speak of all the souls ruined by these blockheads and manikins” (Sammtl. W., XXVIII, 148).
During his absence at the Wartburg (3 Apr., 1521-6 March, 1522) the storm centre of the reform agitation veered to Wittenberg, where Carlstadt took up the reins of leadership, aided and abetted by Melancthon and the Augustinian Friars. In the narrative of conventional Reformation history, Carlstadt is made the scapegoat for all the wild excesses that swept over Wittenberg at this time; even in more critical history he is painted as a marplot, whose officious meddling almost wrecked the work of the Reformation. Still, in the hands of cold scientific Protestant investigators, his character and work have of late undergone an astounding rehabilitation, one that calls for a reappraisement of all historical values in which he figures. He appears not only as a man of “extensive learning, fearless trepidity…glowing enthusiasm for the truth” (Thudichum, op. cit., I, 178), but as the actual pathbreaker for Luther, whom he anticipated in some of his most salient doctrines and audacious innovations. Thus, for example, this new appraisal establishes the facts: that as early as 13 April, 1517, he published his 152 theses against indulgences; that on 21 June, 1521, he advocated and defended the right of priests to marry, and shocked Luther by including monks; that on 22 July, 1521, he called for the removal of all pictures and statuary in sanctuary and church; that on 13 May, 1521, he made public protest against the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, the elevation of the Host, and denounced the withholding of the Chalice from the laity; that so early as 1 March, 1521, while Luther was still in Wittenberg, he inveighed against prayers for the dead and demanded that Mass be said in the vernacular German. While in this new valuation he still retains the character of a disputatious, puritanical polemist, erratic in conduct, surly in manner, irascible in temper, biting in speech, it invests him with a shrinking reluctance to adopt any action however radical without the approval of the congregation or its accredited representatives. In the light of the same researches, it was the mild and gentle Melancthon who prodded on Carlstadt until he found himself the vortex of the impending disorder and riot. “We must begin some time”, he expostulates, “or nothing will be done. He who puts his hand to the plough should not look back”.
The floodgates once opened, the deluge followed. On 9 October, 1521, thirty-nine out of the forty Augustinian Friars formally declared their refusal to say private Mass any longer; Zwilling, one of the most rabid of them, denounced the Mass as a devilish institution; Justus Jonas stigmatized Masses for the dead as sacrilegious pestilences of the soul; Communion under two kinds was publicly administered. Thirteen friars (12 Nov.) doffed their habits, and with tumultuous demonstrations fled from the monastery, with fifteen more in their immediate wake; those remaining loyal were subjected to ill-treatment and insult by an infuriated rabble led by Zwilling; mobs prevented the saying of Mass; on 4 Dec., forty students, amid derisive cheers, entered the Franciscan monastery and demolished the altars; the windows of the house of the resident canons were smashed, and it was threatened with pillage. It was clear that these excesses, uncontrolled by the civil power, unrestrained by the religious leaders, were symptomatic of social and religious revolution. Luther, who in the meantime paid a surreptitious visit to Wittenberg (between 4 and 9 Dec.), had no words of disapproval for these proceedings; on the contrary he did not conceal his gratification. “All I see and hear”, he writes to Spalatin, 9 Dec., “pleases me immensely” (Enders, op. cit., III, 253). The collapse and disintegration of religious life kept on apace. At a chapter of Augustinian Friars at Wittenberg, 6 Jan., 1522, six resolutions, no doubt inspired by Luther himself, were unanimously adopted, which aimed at the subversion of the whole monastic system; five days later the Augustinians removed all altars but one from their church, and burnt the pictures and holy oils. On 19 Jan., Carlstadt, now forty-one years of age, married a young girl of fifteen, an act that called forth the hearty endorsement of Luther; on 9 or 10 Feb., Justus Jonas, and about the same time, Johann Lange, prior of the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, followed his example. On Christmas Day (1521) Carlstadt, “in civilian dress, without any vestment”, ascended the pulpit, preached the “evangelical liberty” of taking Communion under two kinds, held up Confession and absolution to derision, and railed against fasting as an unscriptural imposition. He next proceeded to the altar and said Mass in German, omitting all that referred to its sacrificial character, left out the elevation of the Host, and in conclusion extended a general invitation to all to approach and receive the Lord’s Supper, by individually taking the Host in their hands and drinking from the chalice. The advent of the three Zwickau prophets (27 Dec.) with their communistic ideas, direct personal communication with God, extreme subjectivism in Bible interpretation, all of which impressed Melancthon forcibly, only added fuel to the already fiercely burning flame. They came to consult Luther, and with good reason, for “it was he who taught the universal priesthood of all Christians, which authorized every man to preach; it was he who announced the full liberty of all the sacraments, especially baptism, and accordingly they were justified in rejecting infant baptism”. That they associated with Carlstadt intimately at this time is doubtful; that he fully subscribed to their teachings improbable, if not impossible (Barge, op. cit., I,402).
What brought Luther in such hot haste to Wittenberg? The character given Carlstadt as an instigator of rebellion, the leader of the devastating “iconoclastic movement”, has been found exaggerated and untrue in spite of its universal adoption (Thudichum, op. cit., I,193, who brands it “as a shameless lie”); the assertion that Luther was requested to come to Wittenberg by the town council or congregation, is dismissed as “untenable” (Thudichum, op. cit., I,197). Nor was he summoned by the elector, “although the elector had misgivings about his return, and inferentially did not consider it necessary, so far as the matter of bringing the reformatory zeal of the Wittenbergers into the bounds of moderation was concerned; he did not forbid Luther to return, but expressly permitted it” (Thudichum, op. cit., I,199; Barge, op. cit., I,435). Did perhaps information from Wittenberg portend the ascendancy of Carlstadt, or was there cause for alarm in the propaganda of the Zwickau prophets? At all events on 3 March, Luther on horseback, in the costume of a horseman, with buckled sword, full grown beard, and long hair, issued from the Wartburg. Before his arrival at Wittenberg, he resumed his monastic habit and tonsure, and as a fully groomed monk, he entered the deserted monastery. He lost no timme in preaching on eight successive days (9-17 March) sermons mostly in contravention of Carlstadt’s innovations, every one of which, as is well known, he subsequently adopted. The Lord’s Supper again became the Mass; it is sung in Latin, at the high altar, in rubrical vestments, though all allusions to a sacrifice are expunged; the elevation is retained; the Host is exposed in the monstrance; the adoration of the congregation is invited. Communion under one kind is administered at the high altar — but under two kinds is allowed at a side altar. The sermons characterized by a moderation seldom found in Luther, exercised the thrall of his accustomed eloquence, but proved abortive. Popular sentiment, intimidated and suppressed, favoured Carlstadt. The feud between Luther and Carlstadt was on, and it showed the former “glaringly in his most repellent form” (Barge, I, op. cit., VI), and was only to end when the latter, exiled and impoverished through Luther’s machinations, went to eternity accompanied by Luther’s customary benediction on his enemies.
Luther had one prominent trait of character, which in the consensus of those who have made him a special study, overshadowed all others. It was an overweening confidence and unbending will, buttressed by an inflexible dogmatism. He recognized no superior, tolerated no rival, brooked no contradiction. This was constantly in evidence, but now comes into obtrusive eminence in his hectiring course pursued to drag Erasmus, whom he had long watched with jealous eye, into the controversial arena. Erasmus, like all devotees of humanistic learning, lovers of peace and friends of religion, was in full and accordant sympathy with Luther when he first sounded the note of reform. But the bristling, ungoverned character of his apodictic assertions, the bitterness and brutality of his speech, his alliance with the conscienceless political radicalism of the nation, created an instinctive repulsion, which, when he saw that the whole movement “from its very beginning was a national rebellion, a mutiny of the German spirit and consciousness against Italian despotism” he, timorous by nature, vacillating in spirit, eschewing all controversy, shrinkingly retired to his studies. Popular with popes, honoured by kings, extravagantly extolled by humanists, respected by Luther’s most intimate friends, he was in spite of his pronounced rationalistic proclivities, his withering contempt for monks, and what was a controvertible term, Scholasticism, unquestionably the foremost man of learning in his day. His satiric writings, which according to Kant, did more good to the world than the combined speculations of all metaphysicians and which in the minds of his contemporaries laid the egg which Luther hatched – gave him a great vogue in all walks of life. Such a man’s convictions were naturally supposed to run in the same channel as Luther’s — and if his cooperation, in spite of alluring overtures, failed to be secured – his neutrality was at all hazards to be won. Prompted by Luther’s opponents, still more goaded by Luther’s militant attitude, if not formal challenge, he not only refused the personal request to refrain from all participation in the movement, and become a mere passive “spectator of the tragedy”, but came before the public with his Latin treatise “On Free Will”. In it he would investigate the testimony afforded by the Old and New Testament as to man’s “free will”, and to establish the result, that in spite of the profound thought of philosopher or searching erudition of theologian, the subject is still enshrouded in obscurity, and that its ultimate solution could only be looked for in the fullness of light diffused by the Divine Vision. It was a purely scholastic question involving philosophical and exegetical problems, which were then, as they are now, arguable points in the schools. In no single point does it antagonize Luther in his war with Rome. The work received a wide circulation and general acceptance. Melancthon writes approvingly of it to the author and Spalatin. After the lapse of a year Luther gave his reply in Latin “On the Servitude of the Will”. Luther “never in his whole life had a purely scientific object in view,least of ll in this writing” (Hausrath, op. cit., II,75). It consists of “a torrent of the grossest abuse of Erasmus” (Walch, op. cit., XVIII, 2049-2482 – gives it in German translation), and evokes the lament of the hounded humanist, that he, the lover of peace and quiet, must now turn gladiator and do battle with “wild beasts” (Stichart, op. cit., 370). His pen portraiture of Luther and his controversial methods, given in his two rejoinders, are masterly, and even to this day find a general recognition on the part of all unbiassed students.
His sententious characterization that where “Lutheranism flourishes the sciences perish”, that its adherents then, were men “with but two objects at heart, money and women”, and that the “Gospel which relaxes the reins” and allows averyone to do as he pleases, amply proves that something more deep than Luther’s contentiousness made him an alien to the movement. Nor did Luther’s subsequent efforts to reestablish amicable relations with Erasmus, to which the latter alludes in a letter (11 April, 1526), meet with anything further than a curt refusal.
The times were pregnant with momentous events for the movement. The humanists one after the other dropped out of the fray. Mutianus Rufus, Crotus Rubianus, Beatus Rhenanus, Bonifacius Amerbach, Sebastian Brant, Jacob Wimpheling, who played so prominent a part in the battle of the Obscure Men, now formally returned to the allegiance of the Old Church. Ulrich Zasius, of Freiburg, and Christoph Scheurl, of Nurnberg, the two most illustrious jurists of Germany, early friends and supporters of Luther, with statesmen’s prevision detected the political complexion of affairs, could not fail to notice the growing religious anarchy, and, hearing the distant rumblings of the Peasants’ War, abandoned his cause. The former found his preaching mixed with deadly poison for the German people, the latter pronounced Wittenberg a sink of error, a hothouse of heresy. Sickingen’s last raid on the Archbishop of Trier (27 August, 1522) proved disastrous to his cause and fatal to himself. Deserted by his confederates, overpowered by his assailants, his lair – the fastness Landstuhl – fell into the hands of his enemies, and Sickingen himself horribly wounded died after barely signing its capitulation (30 August, 1523). Hutten, forsaken and solitary, in poverty and neglect, fell a victim to his protracted debauchery (August, 1523) at the early age of thirty-five. The loss sustained by these defections and deaths was incalculable for Luther, especially at one of the most critical periods in German history.
The peasant outbreaks, which in milder forms were previously easily controlled, now assumed a magnitude and acuteness that threatened the national life of Germany. The primary causes that now brought on the predicted and inevitable conflict were the excessive luxury and inordinate love of pleasure in all stations of life, the lust of money on the part of the nobility and wealthy merchants, the unblushing extortions of commercial corporations, the artificial advance in prices and adulteration of the necessities of life, the decay of trade and stagnation of industry resulting from the dissolution of guilds, above all, the long endured oppression and daily increasing destitution of the peasantry, who were the main sufferers in the unbroken wars and feuds that rent and devastated Germany for more than a century. A fire of repressed rebellion and infectious unrest burned throughout the nation. This smouldering fire Luther fanned to a fierce flame by his turbulent and incendiary writings, which were read with avidity by all, and by none more voraciously than the peasant, who looked upon “the son of a peasant” not only as an emancipator from Roman impositions, but the precursor of social advancement. “His invectives poured oil on the flames of revolt”. True, when too late to lay the storm he issued his “Exhortation to Peace”, but it stands in inexplicable and ineffaceable contradiction to his second, unexampled blast “Against the murderous and robbing rabble of Peasants”. In this he entirely changes front, “dipped his pen in blood” (Lang, 180), and “calls upon the princes t slaughter the offending peasants like mad dogs, to stab, strangle and slay as best one can, and holds out as a reward the promise of heaven. The few sentences in which allusions to sympathy and mercy for the vanquished are contained, are relegated to the background. What an astounding illusion lay in the fact, that Luther had the hardihood to offer as apology for his terrible manifesto, that God commanded him to speak in such a strain!” (Schreckenbach, “Luther u. der Bauernkrieg”, Oldenburg, 1895,44; “Sammtl. W.” XXIV, 287-294). His advice was literally followed. The process of repression was frightful. The encounters were more in the character of massacres than battles. The undisciplined peasants with their rude farming implements as weapons, were slaughtered like cattle in the shambles. More than 1000 monasteries and castles were leveled to the ground, hundreds of villages were laid in ashes, the harvests of the nation were destroyed, and 100,000 killed. The fact that one commander alone boasted that “he hanged 40 evangelical preachers and executed 11,000 revolutionists and heretics”, and that history with hardly a dissenting voice fastens the origin of this war on Luther, fully shows where its source and responsibility lay.
While Germany was drenched in blood, its people paralyzed with horror, the cry of the widow and wail of the orphan throughout the land, Luther then in his forty-second year was spending his honeymoon with Catherine von Bora, then twenty-six (married 13 June, 1525), a Bernardine nun who had abandoned her convent. He was regaling his friends with some coldblooded witticisms about the horrible catastrophe uttering confessions of self-reproach and shame, and giving circumstantial details of his connubial bliss, irreproducible in English. Melancthon’s famous Greek letter to his bosom friend Camerarius, 16 June, 1525 on the subject, reflected his personal feelings, which no doubt were shared by most of the bridegroom’s sincere friends.
This step, in conjunction with the Peasants’ War, marked the point of demarcation in Luther’s career and the movement he controlled. “The springtide of the Reformation had lost its bloom. Luther no longer advanced, as in the first seven years of his activity, from success to success…The plot of a complete overthrow of Roman supremacy in Germany, by a torrential popular uprising, proved a chimera” (Hausrath, op. cit., II,62). Until after the outbreak of the social revolution, no prince or ruler, had so far given his formal adhesion to the new doctrines. Even the Elector Frederick (d. May 5, 1525), whose irresolution allowed them unhampered sway, did not, as yet separate from the Church. The radically democratic drift of Luther’s whole agitation, his contemptuous allusions to the German princes, “generally the biggest fools and worst scoundrels on earth” (Walch, op. cit., X, 460-464), were hardly calculated to curry favour or win allegiance. The reading of such explosive pronouncements as that of 1523 “On the Secular Power” or his disingenuous “Exhortation to Peace” in 1525, especially in the light of the events which had just transpired, impressed them as breathing the spirit of insubordination, if not insurrection. Luther, “although the mightiest voice that ever spoke in the German language, was a vox et praeteria nihil”, for it is admitted that he possessed none of the constructive qualifications of statesmanship, and proverbially lacked the prudential attribute of consistency. His championship of the “masses seems to have been limited to those occasions when he saw in them a useful weapon to hold over the heads of his enemies”. The tragic failure of the Peasants’ War now makes him undergo an abrupt transition, and this at a moment when they stood in helpless discomfiture and pitiful weakness, the especial objects of counsel and sympathy. He and Melancthon, now proclaim for the first time the hitherto unknown doctrine of the unlimited power of the ruler over the subject; demand unquestioning submission to authority; preach and formally teach the spirit of servility and despotism. The object lesson which was to bring the enforcement of the full rigour of the law to the attention of the princes was the Peasants’ war. The masses were to be laden down with burdens to curb their refractoriness; the poor man was to be “forced and driven, as we force and drive pigs or wild cattle” (Sammtl. W., XV, 276). Melancthon found the Germans such “a wild, incorrigible, bloodthirsty people” (Corp. Ref., VII, 432-433), that their liberties should by all means be abridged and more drastic severity measured out. The same autocratic power was not to be confined to mere political concerns, but the “Gospel” was to become the instrument of the princes to extend it into the domain of religious affairs.
Luther by the creation of his “universal priesthood of all Christians”, by delegating the authority “to judge all doctrines” to the “Christian assembly or congregation”, by empowering it to appoint or dismiss teacher or preacher, sought the overthrow of the old Catholic order. It did not strike him, that to establish a new Church, to ground an ecclesiastical organization on so precarious and volatile a basis, was in its very nature impossible. The seeds of inevitable anarchy lay dormant in such principles. Momentarity this was clear to himself, when at this very time (1525) he does not hesitate to make the confession, that there are “nearly as many sects as there are heads” (De Wette, op. cit., III, 61). This anarchy in faith was concomitant with the decay of spiritual, charitable, and educational activities. Of this we have a fairly staggering array of evidence from Luther himself. The whole situation was such, that imperative necessity forced the leaders of the reform movement to invoke the aid of the temporal power. Thus “the whole Reformation was a triumph of the temporal power over the spiritual. Luther himself, to escape anarchy, placed all authority in the hands of the princes”. This aid was all the more readily given, since there was placed at the disposition of the temporal power the vast possessions of the old Church, and only involved the pledge, to accept the new opinions and introduce them as a state or territorial religion. The free cities could not resist the lure of the same advances. They meant the exemption from all taxes to bishops and ecclesiastical corporations, the alienation of church property, the suspension of episcopal authority, and its transfer to the temporal power. Here we find the foundation of the national enactment of the Diet of Augsburg, 1555, “eternally branded with the curse of history” (Menzel, op. cit., 615) embodied in the axiom Cujus regio, ejus religio, the religion of the country is tetermined by the religion of its ruler, “a foundation which was but the consequence of Luther’s well-known politics” (Idem, loc. cit.). Freedom of religion became the monopoly of the ruling princes, it made Germany “little more than a geographical name, and a vague one withal” (Cambridge Hist. II, 142); naturally “serfdom lingered there longer than in any civilized country save Russia” (ibid., 191), and was “one of the causes of the national weakness and intellectual sterility which marked Germany during the latter part of the sixteenth century” (ibid.), and just as naturally we find “as many new churches as there were principalities or republics” (Menzel, op. cit., 739).
A theological event, the first of any real magnitude, that had a marked influence in shaping the destiny of the reform movement, even more than the Peasants’ War, was caused by the brooding discontent aroused by Luther’s peremptory condemnation and suppression of every innovation, doctrinal or disciplinary, that was not in the fullest accord with his. This weakness of character was well-known to his admirers then, as it is fully admitted now. Carlstadt, who by a strange irony, was forbidden to preach or publish in Saxony, from whom a recantation was forced, and who was exiled from his home for his opinions – to the enforcement of all which disabilities Luther personally gave his attention – now contumeliously set them at defiance. What degree of culpability there was between Luther doing the same with even greater recklessness and audacity while under the ban of the Empire – or Carlstadt doing it tentatively while under the ban of a territorial lord, did not seem to have caused any suspicion of incongruity. However, Carlstadt precipitated a contention that shook the whole reform fabric to its very centre. The controversy was the first decisive conflict that changed the separatists’ camp into an internecine battleground of hostile combatants. The casus belli was the doctrine of the Eucharist. Carlstadt in his two treatises (26 Feb. and 16 March, 1525), after assailing the “new Pope”, gave an exhaustive statement of his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. The literal interpretation of the institutional words of Christ “this is my body” is rejected, the bodily presence flatly denied. Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation, that the body is in, with, and under the bread, was to him devoid of all Scriptural support. Scripture neither says the bread “is” my body, nor “in” the bread is my body, in fact it says nothing about bread whatever. The demonstrative pronoun “this”, does not refer to the bread at all, but to the body of Christ, present at the table. When Jesus said “this is my body”, He pointed to Himself, and said “this body shall be offered up, this blood shall be shed, for you”. The words “take and eat” refer to the profferred bread – the words “this is my body” to the body of Jesus. He goes further, and maintains that “this is” really means “this signifies”. Accordingly grace should be sought in Christ crucified, not in the sacrament. Among all the arguments advanced none proved more embarrassing than the deictic “this is”. It was the insistence on the identical interpretation of “this” referring to the present Christ, that Luther used as his most clenching argument in setting aside the primacy of the pope at the Leipzig Disputation. Carlstadt’s writings were prohibited, with the result that Saxony, as well as Strasburg, Basle, and now Zurich forbade their sale and circulation. This brought the leader of the Swiss reform movement, Zwingli, into the fray, as the apologist of Carlstadt, the advocate of free speech and unfettered thought, and ipso facto Luther’s adversary.
The reform movement now presented the spectacle of Rome‘s two most formidable opponents, the two most masterful minds and authoritative exponents of contemporary separatistic thought, meeting in open conflict, with the Lord’s Supper as the gage of war. Zwingli shared Carlstadt’s doctrines in the main, with some further divergencies, that need no amplification here. But what gave a mystic, semi-inspirational importance to his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, was the account he gave of his difficulties and doubts concerning the institutional words finding their restful solution in a dream. Unlike Luther at the Wartburg, he did not remember whether this apparition was in black or white [Monitor iste ater an albus fuerit nihil memini (Planck, op. cit., II, 256)]. Whether Luther followed his own custom of never reading through “the books that the enemies of truth have written against me” (Mörikofer, “Ulrich Zwingli”, II, Leipzig, 1869, 205), whether there was a tinge of jealousy “that the Swiss were anxious to be the most prominent” in the reform movement, the mere fact that Zwingli was a confederate of Carlstadt and had an unfortunately dubious dream, afforded subject matter enough for Luther to display his accustomed dialectic methods at their best. A “scientific discussion was not to be conducted with Luther, since he attributed every disagreement with his doctrine to the devil” (Hausrath). This poisoned the controversy at its source, because, “with the devil he would make no truce” (Hausrath, op. cit., II, 188-223). That the eyes of the masses were turning from Wittenberg to Zurich, was only confirmatory evidence of devilish delusion. Luther’s replies to Zwingli’s unorthodox private letter to Alber (16 Nov., 1524) and his nettling treatises came in 1527. They showed that “the injustice and barbarity of his polemics” was not reserved for the pope, monks, or religious vows. “In causticity and contempt of his opponent [they] surpassed all he had ever written”, “they were the utterances of a sick man, who had lost all self-control”. The politics of Satan and the artful machinations of the Prince of Evil are traced in a chronological order from the heretical incursions into the primitive Church to Carlstadt, Oecolampadius, and Zwingli. It was these three satanic agencies that raised the issue of the Lord’s Supper to frustrate the work of the “recovered Gospel”. The professions of love and peace held out by the Swiss, he curses to the pit of hell, for they are patricides and matricides. “Furious the reply can no longer be called, it is disgraceful in the manner in which it drags the holiest representations of his opponents through the mire”. Indiscriminate and opprobrious epithets of pig, dog, fanatic, senseless ass, “go to your pigsty and roll in your filth” (“Sammtl. W.”, XXX, 68) are some of the polemical coruscations that illuminate this reply. Yet, in few of his polemical writings do we find more conspicuous glimpses of a soundness of theological knowledge, appositeness of illustration, familiarity with the Fathers, reverence for tradition – remnants of his old training – than in this document, which caused sorrow and consternation throughout the whole reform camp. “The hand which had pulled down the Roman Church in Germmany made the first rent in the Church which was to take its place” (Cambridge History, II, 209).
The attempt made by the Landgrave Philip, to bring the contending forces together and effect a compromise at the Marburg Colloquy, 1-3 October, 1529, was doomed to failure before its convocation. Luther’s iron will refused to yield to any concession, his parting salutation to Zwingli, “your spirit is not our spirit” (De Wette, op. cit., IV, 28) left no further hope of negotiations, and the brand he affixed on this antagonist and his disciples as “not only liars, but the very incarnation of lying, deceit, and hypocrisy” (Idem, op. cit.) closed the opening chapter of a possible reunion. Zwingli returned to Zurich to meet his death on the battlefield of Kappel (11 October, 1531). The damnation Luther meted out to him in life “accompanied his hated rival also in death” (Menzel, II, 420). The next union of the two reform wings was when they became brothers in arms against Rome in the Thirty Years’ War.
While occupied with his manifold pressing duties, all of them performed with indefatigable zeal and consuming energy, alarmed at the excesses attending the upheaval of social and ecclesiastical life, his reform movement generally viewed from its more destructive side, he did not neglect the constructive elements designed to give cohesion and permanency to his task. These again showed his intuitional apprehension of the racial susceptibilities of the people and his opportune political sagacity in enlisting the forces of the princes. His appeal for schools and education was to counteract the intellectual chaos created by the suppression and desertion of the monastic and church schools; his invitation to the congregation to sing in the vernacular German in the liturgical services in spite of the record of more than 1400 vernacular hymns before the Reformation proved a masterstroke and gave him a most potent adjunct to his preaching; the Latin Mass, which he retained, more to chagrin Carlstadt than for any other accountable reason, he now abandoned, with many excisions and modifications for the German. Still more important and far-reaching was the plan which Melancthon, under his supervision, drew up to supply a workable regulative machinery for the new Church. To introduce this effectively “the evangelical princes with their territorial powers stepped in” (Köstlin-Kawerau, op. cit., II, 24). The Elector of Saxony especially showed a disposition to act in a summary, drastic manner, which met with Luther’s full approval. “Not only were priests, who would not conform, to lose their benefices, but recalcitrant laymen, who after instruction were still obstinate, had a time allowed within which they were to sell their property, and then leave the country” (Beard, op. cit., 177). The civil power was invoked to decide controversies among preachers, and to put down theological discussion with the secular arm. The publication of a popular catechism in simple idiomatic colloquial German, had an influence, in spite of the many Catholic catechetical works already in existence, that can hardly be over-estimated.
The menacing religious war, between the adherents of the “Gospel” and the fictitious Catholic League (15 May, Breslau), ostensibly formed to exterminate the Protestants, which with a suspicious precipitancy on the part of its leader, Landgrave Philip, had actually gone to a formal declaration of war (15 May, 1528), was fortunately averted. It proved to be based on a rather clumsily forged document of Otto von Pack, a member of Duke George’s chancery. Luther, who first shrank from war and counselled peace, by one of those characteristic reactions “now that peace had been established, began a war in real earnest about the League” (Planck, op. cit., II, 434) in whose existence, in spite of unquestionable exposure, he still firmly believed.
The Diet of Speyer (21 February-22 April, 1529), presided over by King Ferdinand, as the emperor’s deputy, like that held in the same city three years earlier, arrived at a real compromise. The two “Propositions” or “Instructions” submitted, were expected to accomplish this. The decree allowed the Lutheran Estates the practice and reform of the new religion within their territorial boundaries, but claimed the same rights for those who should continue to adhere to the Catholic Church. Melancthon expressed his satisfaction with this and declared that they would work no hardship for them, but even “protect us mmore than the decrees of the earlier Diet” (Speyer, 1526; Corp. Ref., I, 1059). But an acceptance, much less an effective submission to the decrees, was not to be entertained at this juncture, and five princes most affected, on 19 April, handed in a protestation which Melancthon in alarm called “a terrible affair”. This protest has become historic, since it gave the specific nomenclature Protestant to the whole opposition movement to the Catholic Church. “The Diet of Speyer inaugurates the actual division of the German nation” (*Janssen, op. cit., III,51).
In spite of the successful Hungarian invasion of the Turks, political affairs, by the reconciliation of pope and emperor (Barcelona, 29 June, 1529), the peace with Francis I (Cambrai, 5 August, 1529), shaped themselves so happily, that Charles V was crowned emperor by his whilom enemy, Clement VII (Bologna, 24 Feb., 1530). However, in Germany, affairs were still irritant and menacing. To the hostility of Catholics and Protestants was now added the acrimonious quarrel between the latter and the Zwinglians; the late Diet of Speyer was inoperative, practically a dead letter, the Protestant princes privily and publicly showed a spirit that was not far removed from open rebellion. Charles again sought to bring about religious peace and harmony by taking the tangled skein into his own hands. He accordingly summoned the Diet of Augsburg, which assembled in 1530 (8 April-19 November), presided over it in person, arranged to have the disaffected religious parties meet, calmly discuss and submit their differences, and by a compromise or arbitration, reestablish peace. Luther being under the ban of the Empire, for “certain reasons” (De Wette, op. cit., III,368) did not make his appearance, but was harboured in the fortress of Coburg, about four days journey distant. Here he was in constant touch and confidential relations with Melancthon and other Protestant leaders. It was Melancthon who, under the dominant influence of Luther and availing himself of the previously accepted Articles of Marburg (5 Oct., 1529), Schwabach (16 Oct., 1529), Torgau (20 March, 1530), and the Large Catechism, drew up the first authoritative profession of the Lutheran Church. This religious charter was the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana), the symbolical book of Lutheranism.
In its original form it met with Luther’s full endorsement. It consists of an introduction, or preamble, and is in two parts. The first, consisting of twenty-one Articles, gives an exposition of the principal doctrines of the Protestant creed, and aimms at an amicable adjustment; the second, consisting of seven Articles, deals with “abuses”, and concerning these there is a “difference”. The Confession as a whole is irenic and is more of an invitation to union than a provocation to disunion. Its tone is dignified, moderate, and pacific. But it allows its insinuating concessions to carry it so far into the boundaries of the vague and indefinite as to leave a lurking suspicion of artifice. Doctrinal differences, fundamental and irreconcilable, are pared down or slurred over to an almost irreducible degree. No one was better qualified by temper or training to clothe the blunt, apodictic phraseology of Luther in the engaging vesture of truth than Melancthon. The Articles on original sin, justification by faith alone, and free will – though perplexingly similar in sound and terminology, lack the ring of the true Catholic metal. Again, many of the conceded points, some of them a surprising and startling character, even abstracting from their suspected ambiguity, were in such diametric conflict with the past teaching and preaching of the petitioners, even in contradiction to their written and oral communications passing at the very moment of deliberation, as to cast suspicion on the whole work. That these suspicions were not unfounded was amply proved by the aftermath of the Diet. The correction of the so-called abuses dealt with in Part II under the headings: Communion under both kinds, the marriage of priests, the Mass, compulsory confession, distinction of meats and tradition, monastic vows, and the authority of bishops, for obvious reasons, was not entertained, much less agreed to. Melancthon’s advances for still further concessions were promptly and peremptorily rejected by Luther. The “Confession” was read at a public session of the Diet (25 June) in German and Latin, was handed to the emperor, who in turn submitted it to twenty Catholic theologians, including Luther’s old antagonists Eck, Cochlaeus, Usingen, and Wimpina, for examination and refutation. The first reply, on account of its prolixity, and bitter and irritating tone, was quickly rejected, nor did the emperor allow the “Confutation of the Augsburg Confession” to be read before the Diet (3 August) until it had been pruned and softened down by no less than five revisions. Melancthon’s “Apology for the Augsburg Confession”, which was in the nature of a reply to the “Confutation”, and which passes as of equal official authority as the “Confession” itself, was not accepted by the emperor. All further attempts at a favourable outcome proving unavailing, the imperial edict condemning the Protestant contention was published (22 Sept.). It allowed the leaders until 15 April, 1532, for reconsideration.
The recess was read (13 Oct.) to the Catholic Estates, who at the same timme formed the Catholic League. To the Protestants it was read 11 Nov., who rejected it and formed the Smalkaldic League (29 March, 1531), an offensive and defensive alliance of all Lutherans. The Zwinglians were not admitted. Luther, who returned to Wittenberg in a state of great irritation at the outcome of the Diet, was now invoked to prepare the public mind for the position assumed by the princes, which at first blush looked suspiciously like downright rebellion. He did this in one of his paroxysmal rages, one of those ruthless outpourings when calm deliberation, religious charity, political prudence, social amenities are openly and flagrantly set at defiance. The three popular publications were: “Warning to his dear German People” (Walch, op. cit., XVI, 1950-2016), “Glosses on the putative Imperial Edict” (Idem, op. cit., 2017-2062), and, far outstripping these, “Letter against the Assassin at Dresden” (Idemm, op. cit., 2062-2086), which his chief biographer characterizes as “one of the most savage and violent of his writings” (Kostlin-Kawerau, op. cit., II, 252). All of them, particularly the last, indisputably established his controversial methods as being “literally and wholly without decorum, conscience, taste or fear” (Mozley, “Historical Essays”, London, 1892, I, 375-378). His mad onslaught on Duke George of Saxony, “the Assassin of Dresden”, whom history proclaims “the most honest and consistent character of his age” (Armstrong, op. cit., I, 325), “one of the most estimable Princes of his age” (Cambridge Hist., II, 237), was a source of mortification to his friends, a shock to the sensibilities of every honest man, and has since kept his apologists busy at vain attempts at vindication. The projected alliance with Francis I, Charles’ deadly enemy, met with favour. Its patriotic aspects need not be dwelt upon. Henry VIII of England, who was now deeply concerned with the proceedings of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, was approached less successfully. The opinion about the divorce, asked from the universities, also reached that of Wittenberg, where Robert Barnes, an English Augustinian friar who had deserted his monastery, brought every influence to bear to make it favourable. The opinion was enthusiastically endorsed by Melancthon, Osiander, and Oecolampadius. Luther also in an exhaustive brief maintained that “before he would permit a divorce, he would rather that the king took unto himself another queen” (De Wette, op. cit., 296). However, the memorable theological passage at arms the king had had with Luther, the latter’s cringing apology, left such a feeling of aversion, if not contempt, in the soul of his rival reformer, that the invitation was to all intents ignored.
In the beginning of 1534, Luther after twelve years of intermittent labor, completed and published in six parts his German translation of the entire Bible.
For years the matter of a general council had been agitated in ecclesiastical ciecles. Charles V constantly appealed for it, the Augsburg Confession emphatically demanded it, and now the accession of Paul III (13 Oct., 1534), who succeeded Clement VII (d. 25 Sept., 1534), gave the movement an impetus, that for once made it loom up as a realizable accomplishment. The pope sanctioned it, on condition that the Protestants would abide by its decisions and submit their credenda in concise, intelligible form. With a view of ascertaining the tone of feeling at the German Courts, he sent Vergerius there as a legate. He, in order to make the study of the situation as thorough as possible, did not hesitate, while passing through Wittenberg on his way to the Elector of Brandenburg, to meet Luther in person (7 Nov., 1535). His description of the jauntily groomed reformer “in holiday attire, in a vest of dark calmet, sleeves with gaudy atlas cuffs…coat of serge lined with fox pelts…several rings on his fingers, a massive gold chain about his neck” shows him in a somewhat unusual light. The presence of the man who would reform the ancient Church decked out in so foppish a manner, made an impression on the mind of the legate, that can readily be conjectured. Aware of Luther’s disputatious character, he dexterously escaped discussion, by disclaiming all profound knowledge of theology, and diverted the interview into the commonplace. Luther treated the interview as a comedy, a view no doubt more fully shared by the keen-witted Italian.
The question was raised as to what participation the Protestants should assume in the council, which had been announced to meet at Mantua. After considerable discussion Luther was commissioned to draw up a document, giving a summary of their doctrines and opinions. This he did after which the report was submitted to the favourable consideration of the elector and a specially appointed body of theologians. It contained the Articles of Smalkald “a real oppositional record against the Roman Church” (Guericke), eventually incorporated in the “Concordienformel” and accepted as a symbolical book. It is on the whole such a brusque rejection and coarse philippic against the pope as “Antichrist”, that we need not marvel that Melancthon shrank from affixing his unqualified signature to it.
Luther’s serious illness during the Smalkaldic Convention, threatened a fatal termination to his activities, but the prospect of death in no way seemed to mellow his feelings towards the papacy. It was when supposedly on the brink of eternity (24 Feb., 1537) that he expressed the desire to one of the elector’s chamberlains to have his epitaph written: “Pestis eram vivus, moriens ero mors tua, Papa” [living I was a pest to thee, O Pope, dying I will be thy death (Kostlin-Kawerau, op. cit., II, 389)]. True, the historicity of this epitaph is not in chronological agreement with the narrative of Mathesius, who maintains he heard it in the house of Spalatin, 9 Jan., 1531, or with the identical words found in his “Address to the Clergy assembled at the Augsburg Diet”, in which he hurled back the gibes flung at the priests who had enrolled under his banner and married. Nevertheless it is in full consonance with the parting benediction the invalid gave from his wagon, to his assembled friends on his homeward journey: “May the Lord fill you with His blessings and with hatred of the pope”, and the verbatim sentiments chalked on the wall of his chamber, the night before his death.
Needless to add, the Protestant Estates refused the invitation to the council, and herein we have the first public and positive renunciation of the papacy.
“What Luther claimed for himself against Catholic authority, he refused to Carlstadt and refused to Zwingli. He failed to see that their position was exactly as his own, with a difference of result, which indeed was all the difference in the world to him” (Tulloch, “Leaders of the Reformation”, Edinburgh and London, 1883, 171). This was never more manifest than in the interminable Sacramentarian warfare. Bucer, on whom the weight of leadership fell, after Zwingli’s death, which was followed shortly by that of Oecolampadius (24 Nov., 1531), was unremitting in bringing about a reunion, or at least an understanding on the Lord’s Supper, the main point of cleavage between the Swiss and German Protestants. Not only religiously, but politically, would this mean a step towards the progress of Zwinglianism. At its formation the Swiss Protestants were not admitted to the Smalkaldic League (29 March, 1531); its term of six years was about to expire (29 March, 1537) and they now renewed their overtures. Luther, who all the time could not conceal his opposition to the Zwinglians, even going to the extent of directing and begging Duke Albrecht of Prussia, not to tolerate any of Munzer’s or Zwingli’s adherents in his territory, finally yielded to the assembling of a peace conference. Knowing their predicament, he used the covert threat of an exclusion from the league as a persuasive to drive them to the acceptance of his views. This conference which, owing to his sickness, was held in his own house at Wittenberg, was attended by eleven theologians of Zwinglian proclivities and seven Lutherans. It resulted in the theological compromise, reunion it can hardly be called, known as the Concord of Wittenberg (21-29 Mat, 1536). The remonstrants, technically waiving the points of difference, subscribed to the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, infant baptism, and absolution. That the Zwinglian theologians “who subscribed to the Concord and declared its contents true and scriptural, dropped their former convictions and were transformed into devout Lutherans, no one who was acquainted with these men more intimately can believe” (Thudichum, op. cit., II, 489). They simply yielded to the unbending determination of Luther, and “subscribed to escape the hostility of the Elector John Frederick who was absolutely Luther’s creature, and not to forfeit the protection of the Smalkaldic League; they submitted to the inevitable to escape still greater dangers” (Idem, op. cit.). As for Luther, the “poor, wretched Concord” as he designates it, received little recognition from him. In 1539, he coupled the names of Nestorius and Zwingli in a way that gave deep offence at Zurich. At Wittenberg, Zwingli and Oecolampadius became convertible terms for heretics, and with Luther’s taunting remark that “he would pray and teach against them until the end of his days” (De Wette, op. cit., V, 587), the rupture was again completed.
The internal controversies of the Lutheran Church, which were to shatter its disjointed unity with the force of an explosive eruption after his death, and which now only his dauntless courage, powerful will, and imperious personality held within the limits of murmuring restraint, were cropping out on all sides, found their way into Wittenberg, and affected even his bosom friends. Though unity was out of the question, an appearance of uniformity had at all hazards to be maintained. Cordatus, Schenck, Agricola, all veterans in the cause of reform, lapsed into doctrinal aberrations that caused him much uneasiness. The fact that Melancthon, his most devoted and loyal friend, was under a cloud of suspicion for entertaining heterodox views, though not as yet fully shared by him, caused him no little irritation and sorrow. But all these domestic broils were trivial and lost sight of, when compared to one of the most critical problems that thus far confronted the new Church, which was suddenly sprung upon its leaders, focusing more especially on its hierophant. This was the double marriage of Landgrave Philip of Hesse.
Philip the Magnanimous (b. 23 Nov., 1504) was married before his twentieth year to Christina, daughter of Duke George of Saxony, who was then in her eighteenth year. He had the reputation of being “the most immoral of princelings”, who ruined himself, in the language of his court theologians, by “unrestrained and promiscuous debauchery”. He himself admits that he could not remain faithful to his wife for three consecutive weeks. The malignant attack of venereal disease, which compelled a temporary cessation of his profligacy, also directed his thoughts to a more ordinate gratification of his passions. His affections were already directed to Margaret von der Saal, a seventeen-year-old lady-in-waiting, and he concluded to avail himself of Luther’s advice to enter a double marriage. Christina was “a woman of excellent qualities and noble mind, to whom, in excuse of his infidelities, he [Philip] ascribed all sorts of bodily infirmities and offensive habits” (Schmidt, “Melancthon”, 367). She had borne him seven children. The mother of Margaret would only entertain the proposition of her daughter becoming Philip’s “second wife” on condition that she, her brother, Philip’s wife, Luther, Melancthon, and Bucer, or at least, two prominent theologians be present at the marriage. Bucer was entrusted with the mission of securing the consent of Luther, Melancthon and the Saxon princes. In this he was eminently successful. All was to be done under the veil of the profoundest secrecy. This secrecy Bucer enjoined on the landgrave again and again, even when on his journey to Wittenberg (3 Dec., 1539) that “all might redound to the glory of God” (Lenz, op. cit., I,119). Luther’s position on the question was fully known to him. The latter’s opportunism in turn grasped the situation at a glance. It was a question of expediency and necessity more than propriety and legality. If the simultaneous polygamy were permitted, it would prove an unprecendented act in the history of Christendom; it would, moreover, affix on Philip the brand of a most heinous crime, punishable under recent legislation with death by beheading. If refused, it threatened the defection of the landgrave, and would prove a calamity beyond reckoning to the Protestant cause.
Evidently in an embarrassing quandary, Luther and Melancthon filed their joint opinion (10 Dec., 1539). After expressing gratification at the landgrave’s last recovery, “for the poor, miserable Church of Christ is small and forlorn, and stands in need of truly devout lords and rulers”, it goes on to say that a general law that a “man may have more than one wife” could not be handed down, but that a dispensation could be granted. All knowledge of the dispensation and the marriage should be buried from the public in deadly silence. “All gossip on the subject is to be ignored, as long as we are right in conscience, and this we hold is right”, for “what is permitted in the Mosaic law, is not forbidden in the Gospel” (De Wette-Seidemann, VI, 239-244; “Corp. Ref.”, III, 856-863). The nullity and impossibility of the second marriage while the legality of the first remained untouched was not mentioned or hinted at. His wife, assured by her spiritual director “that it was not contrary to the law of God”, gave her consent, though on her deathbed she confessed to her son that her consent was feloniously wrung from her. In return Philip pledged his princely word that she would be “the first and supreme wife” and that his matrimonial obligations “would be rendered her with more devotion than before”. The children of Christina “should be considered the sole princes of Hesse” (Rommel, op. cit.). After the arrangement had already been completed, a daughter was born to Christina, 13 Feb., 1540. The marriage took place (4 March, 1540) in the presence of Bucer, Melancthon, and the court preacher Melander who performed the ceremony. Melander was “a bluff agitator, surly, with a most unsavoury moral reputation”, one of his moral derelictions being the fact that he had three living wives, having deserted two without going through the formality of a legal separation. Philip lived with both wives, both of whom bore him children, the landgravine, two sons and a daughter, and Margaret six sons. How can this “darkest stain” on the history of the German Reformation be accounted for? Was it “politics, biblicism, distorted vision, precipitancy, fear of the near approaching Diet that played such a role in the sinful downfall of Luther?” Or was it the logical sequence of premises he had maintained for years in speech and print, not to touch upon the ethics of that extraordinary sermon on marriage? He himself writes defiantly that he “is not ashamed of his opinion” (Lauterbach, op. cit., 198). The marriage in spite of all precautions, injunctions, and pledges of secrecy leaked out, caused a national sensation and scandal, and set in motion an extensive correspondence between all intimately concerned, to neutralize the effect on the public mind. Melancthon “nearly died of shame, but Luther wished to brazen the matter out with a lie” (Cambridge Hist., II, 241). The secret “yea” must for the sake of the Christian Church remain a public “nay” (De Witte-Seidemann, op. cit., VI, 263). “What harm would there be, if a man to accomplish better things and for the sake of the Christian Church, does tell a good thumping lie” (Lenz, “Briefwechsel”, I, 382; Kolde, “Analecta”, 356), was his extenuating plea before the Hessian counsellors assembled at Eisenach (1540), a sentiment which students familiar with his words and actions will remember is in full agreement with much of his policy and many of his assertions. “We are convinced that the papacy is the seat of the real and actual Antichrist, and believe that against its deceit and iniquity everything is permitted for the salvation of souls” (De Wette, op. cit., I, 478).
Charles V involved in a triple war, with a depleted exchequer, with a record of discouraging endeavours to establish religious peace in Germany, found what he thought was a gleam of hope in the concession half-heartedly made by the Smalkaldic assembly of Protestant theologians (1540), in which they would allow episcopal jurisdiction provided the bishops would tolerate the new religion. Indulging this fond, but delusive expectation, he convened a religious colloquy to meet at Speyer (6 June, 1540). The tone of the Protestant reply to the invitation left little prospect of an agreement. The deadly epidemic raging at Speyer compelled its transference to Hagenau, whence after two months of desultory and ineffectual debate (1 June-28 July), it adjourned to Worms (28 Oct.). Luther from the beginning had no confidence in it, it “would be a loss of time, a waste of money, and a neglect of all home duties” (De Wette, op. cit., V, 308). It proved an endless and barren word-tilting of theologians, as may be inferred from the fact that after three months constant parleying, an agreement was reached on but one point, and that barnacled with so many conditions, as to make it absolutely valueless. The emperor’s relegation of the colloquy to the Diet of Ratisbon (5 April-22 May), which he, as well as the papal legate Contarini, attended in person, met with the same unhappy result. Melancthon, reputed to favour reunion, was placed by the elector, John Frederick, under a strict police surveillance, during which he was neither allowed private interviews, private visits, or even private walks. The elector, as well as King Francis 1, fearing the political ascendancy of the emperor, placed every barrier in the way of compromise, and when the rejected articles were submitted by a special embassy to Luther, the former not only warned him by letter against their acceptance, but rushed in hot haste to Wittenberg, to throw the full weight of his personal unfluence into the frustration of all plans of peace.
Luther’s life and career were drawing to a close. His marriage to Catherine von Bora was on the whole, as far as we can infer from his own confession and public appearances, a happy one. The Augustinian monastery, which was given to him after his marriage by the elector, became his homestead. Here six children were born to them:
John (7 June, 1526),
Elizabeth (10 Dec., 1527),
Magdalen (4 May, 1529),
Martin (9 Nov., 1531),
Paul (28 Jan., 1533), and
Margaret (17 December, 1534).
Catherine proved to be a plain, frugal, domestic housewife; her interest in her fowls, piggery, fish-pond, vegetable garden, home-brewery, were deeper and more absorbing than in the most gigantic undertakings of her husband. Occasional bickerings with her neighbours and the enlistment of her husband’s intervention in personal interests and biases, were frequent enough to engage the tongue of public censure. She died at Torgau (20 Dec., 1552) in comparative obscurity, poverty, and neglect, having found Wittenberg cold and unsympathetic to the reformer’s family. This he had predicted, “after my death the four elements in Wittenberg will not tolerate you after all”. Luther’s rugged health began to show marks of depleting vitality and unchecked inroads of disease. Prolonged attacks of dyspepsia, nervous headaches, chronic granular kidney disease, gout, sciatic rheumatism, middle ear abscesses, above all vertigo and gall stone colic were intermittent or chronic ailments that gradually made him the typical embodiment of a supersensitively nervous, prematurely old man. These physical impairments were further aggravated by his notorious disregard of all ordinary dietetic or hygienic restrictions. Even prescinding from his congenital heritage of inflammable irascibility and uncontrollable rage, besetting infirmities that grew deeper and more acute with age, his physical condition in itself would measurably account for his increasing irritation, passionate outbreaks, and hounding suspicions, which in his closing days became a problem more of pathological or psychopathic interest, than biographic or historical importance.
It was this “terrible temper” which brought on the tragedy of alienation, that drove from him his most devoted friends and zealous co-laborers. Every contradiction set him ablaze. “Hardly one of us”, in the lament of one of his votaries, “can escape Luther’s anger and his public scourging” (Corp. Ref., V, 314). Carlstadt parted with himm in 1522, after what threatened to be a personal encounter; Melancthon in plaintive tones speaks of his passionate violence, self-will, and tyranny, and does not mince words in confessing the humiliation of his ignoble servitude; Bucer, prompted by political and diplomatic motives, prudently accepts the inevitable “just as the Lord bestowed him on us”; Zwingli “has become a pagan, Oecolampadius…and the other heretics have in-devilled, through-devilled, over-devilled corrupt hearts and lying mouths, and no one should pray for them”, all of them “were brought to their death by the fiery darts and spears of the devil” (Walch, op. cit., XX, 223); Calvin and the Reformed are also the possessors of “in-deviled, over-devilled, and through-devilled hearts”; Schurf, the eminent jurist, was changed from an ally to an opponent, with a brutality that defies all explanation or apology; Agricola fell a prey to a repugnance that time did not soften; Schwenkfeld, Armsdorf, Cordatus, all incurred his ill will, forfeited his friendship, and became the butt of his stinging speech. “The Luther, who from a distance was still honored as the hero and leader of the new church, was only tolerated at its centre in consideration of his past services” (Ranke, op. cit., II, 421). The zealous band of men, who once clustered about their standard-bearer, dwindled to an insignificant few, insignificant in number, intellectuality, and personal prestige. A sense of isolation palled the days of his decline. It not alone affected his disposition, but played the most astonishing pranks with his memory. The oftener he details to his table companions, the faithful chroniclers who gave us his “Tischreden”, the horrors of the papacy, the more starless does the night of his monastic life appear. “The picture of his youth grows darker and darker. He finally becomes a myth to himself. Not only do dates shift themselves, but also facts. When the old man drops into telling tales, the past attains the plasticity of wax. He ascribes the same words promiscuously now to this, now to that friend or enemy” (Hausrath, op.cit., II, 432).
It was this period that gave birth to the incredibilities, exaggerations, distortions, contradictions, inconsistencies, that make his later writing an inextricable web to untangle and for three hundred years have supplied uncritical historiography with the cock-and-bull fables which unfortunately have been accepted on their face value. Again the dire results of the Reformation caused him “unspeakable solicitude and grief”. The sober contemplation of the incurable inner wounds of the new Church, the ceaseless quarrels of the preachers, the galling despotism of the temporal rulers, the growing contempt for the clergy, the servility to the princes, made him fairly writhe in anguish. Above all the disintegration of moral and social life, the epidemic ravages of vice and immorality, and that in the very cradle of the Reformmation, even in his very household, nearly drove him frantic. “We live in Sodom and Babylon, affairs are growing daily worse”, is his lament (De Wette, op. cit., V, 722). In the whole Wittenberg district, with its two cities and fifteen parochial villages, he can find “only one peasant and not more, who exhorts his domestics to the Word of God and the catechism, the rest plunge headlong to the devil” (Lauterbach, “Tagebuch”, 113,114,135; *Dollinger, “Die Reformation”, I, 293-438). Twice he was on the verge of deserting this “Sodom“, having commissioned his wife (28 July, 1545) to sell all their effects. It required the combined efforts of the university, Bugenhagen, Melancthon, and the burgomaster, to make him change his mind. And again in December, only the powerful intervention of the elector prevented him carrying out his design. Then again came those torturing assaults of the Devil, which left “no rest for even a single day”. His nightly encounters “exhausted and martyred him to an intensity, that he was barely able to gasp or take breath”. Of all the assaults “none were more severe or greater than about my preaching, the thought coming to me: All this confusion caused by you” (Sammtl. W., LIX, 296; LX. 45-46; 108-109, 111; LXII, 494). His last sermon in Wittenberg (17 Jan., 1546) is in a vein of despondency and despair. “Usury, drunkenness, adultery, murder, assassination, all these cam be noticed, and the world understands them to be sins, but the devil’s bride, reason, that pert prostitute struts in, and will be clever and means what she says, that it is the Holy Ghost” (op. cit., XVI, 142-48). The same day he pens the pathetic lines “I am old, decrepit, indolent, weary, cold, and now have the sight of but one eye” (De Wette, op. cit., V, 778). Nevertheless peace was not his.
It was while in this agony of body and torture of mind, that his unsurpassable and irreproducible coarseness attained its culminating point of virtuosity in his anti-Semitic and antipapal pamphlets. “Against the Jews and their Lies” was followed in quick succession by his even more frenzied fusillade “On the Schem Hamphoras” (1542) and “Against the Papacy established by the Devil” (1545). Here, especially in the latter, all coherent thought and utterance is buried in a torrential deluge of vituperation “for which no pen, much less a printing press have ever been found” (Menzel, op. cit., II, 352). His mastery in his chosen method of controversy remained unchallenged. His friends had “a feeling ofsorrow. His scolding remained unanswered, but also unnoticed” (Ranke, op. cit., II,121). Accompanying this last volcanic eruption, as a sort of illustrated commentary “that the common man, who is unable to read, may see and understand what he thought of the papacy” (Forstemann), were issued the nine celebrated caricatures of the pope by Lucas Cranach, with expository verses by Luther. These, “the coarsest drawings that the history of caricature of all times has ever produced” (Lange, “Der Papstesel”, Gottingen, 1891,89), were so inexpressibly vile that a common impulse of decency demanded their summary suppression by his friends.
His last act was, as he predicted and prayed for, an attack on the papacy. Summoned to Eisleben, his native place, a short time after, to act as an arbiter in a contention between the brothers Albrecht and Gebhard von Mansfeld, death came with unexpected speed but not suddenly, and he departed this life about three o’clock in the morning, 18 February, 1546, in the presence of a number of friends. The body was taken to Wittenberg for interment, and was buried on the 22 Feb., in the castle church, where it now lies with that of Melancthon.
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MARTIN LUTHER [Catholic Encyclopedia] ~ BIOGRAPHY 1